Free Jacks Development Program and Player Pathways

 

The Free Jacks have actively been involved in player development and ‘Home Grown’ player development since the clubs inception, as part of the organization’s mission to grow grass roots rugby and increase the quality of USA qualified athletes. With many of these Free Jacks initiatives already in play, Major League Rugby (MLR) launched the Grassroots Development Incentives (GDI) in the fall of 2020 to incentivize all MLR teams for investing in infrastructure to grow the sport through academies and youth participation. 

What is a development player?

Development players are non-contracted training players that exchange their time for world class coaching, and experience in a high performance environment to better themselves as players and to close the gap to professionalism. Free Jacks currently have three fully immersed Development players in the 2024 training squad; Jordan Drain, Nolan Buckley, and Devin Rivet. 

“We are grateful to have Jordan, Nolan and Devin who have accepted invitations to join the squad as development players. They are all talented athletes, and we want to support them in their aspirations of competing at MLR level.” – Tom Kindley, General Manager.   

What is the aim of a development player?

The key focus for a Development player is to improve their skills, knowledge, and physical abilities to be ready to play professional rugby within the MLR.

A development player may become a playing member of the squad in two scenarios, firstly in the instance of an injury of a contracted player, or if their performance is elite enough to be considered for the Free Jacks playing squad. 

Have any Free Jacks Development players progressed into the MLR?

Many of the organization’s development players have gone on to play in the MLR whether it be for the Free Jacks or for other MLR teams. 

Kyle Ciquera, Cameron Davidowicz, Matt Gash-Gilder, Connor Robinson, Ethan Fryer are examples of Free Jacks development players who progressed to Major League Rugby.  

In 2021 Cam Davidowicz entered the Free Jacks squad as a development player. After continued improvements, hard work and dedication, the Massachusetts native and Plymouth State graduate  earned a contract with the Free Jacks in the 2022 season. Just two years after entering the team as a Homegrown Development player, Cam played a core role in the MLR championship final against San Diego Legion, where the Free Jacks won and took home the Championship and the MLR Shield.

Cam Davidowicz at the MLR Championship Final 2023

Why do the Free Jacks spend time developing players?  

Not all players remain at the Free Jacks, some go on to play for other teams, such as Connor Robinson, and Matt Gash-Gilder, Free Jacks Development players that transferred to the Jackals during the 2022 MLR season, leveraging the Free Jacks training experience to play elsewhere in the MLR.

So if the Free Jacks don’t keep all their development talent, why do they continue to develop players? 

The entire squad benefits from the improved training environment and the eagerness these players bring. The Free Jacks are dedicated to the mission of developing home grown and USA eligible players. It is important to the Free Jacks that American participation increases. In order for youth participation to grow, there must be clear and attainable pathways within New England and across the nation. 

Where do the free jacks get thier development players?  

The Free Jacks acquire development players from the Collegiate Draft, from amateur clubs and from the Free Jacks Academy teams–The Independents (Senior Men), Collegiate Independents (U23 Men), and the Junior Jacks (U18 Boys).

In December of each year ahead of the inclement pre-season, the Free jacks run a High Performance Camp for the best collegiate and club players in the area so that they can experience the life of a professional rugby player and learn from world class coaches like Scott Mathie, and George Petrakos, as well as proven Free Jacks players preparing for the season

The high performance camp is a really great way for talented upcoming players to make themselves known to us at the end of their fall season. At the end of the day, this is where we select our development players and aim to locate the next New England rugby stars”, said Tom Kindley

In 2022 Ethan Fryer played for the Free Jacks Academy team, The New England Independents, and was involved as a development player with the senior squad. After some high level performances, Ethan was elevated to a contracted player and debuted in the MLR against Toronto that season. Ethan was contracted for the full season in 2023, and continues his fast trajectory of development. 

Moreover, the MLR Collegiate draft provides many development players. However, some players skip the development status and obtain a playing contract immediately. In the 2023 MLR Collegiate Draft, Free Jacks acquired Will Chevalier. Will comes with an astonishing rugby resume playing for USA 7’s, The USA 7s Youth Olympic Team, in the PR7s, and is a two-time High School All American. With a range of skills and experiences, Chevalier has joined the Free Jacks senior team as a contracted player after a successful period with the USA Eagles National Sevens Team.

 

Will Chevalire representing the USA

Zach Bastres is another fine example of a Collegiate talent who has benefitted from the Free Jacks performance environment to become a genuine contributor. Zach was selected in the 3rd round of the 2021 MLR draft from a small rugby college, University of Northern Colorado. Zach joined the side in 2022, where he bolted onto the scene, developing quickly under Free Jacks tutelage alongside playing opportunities with the New England Independents. Zach was able to utilize his speed and aerial skills to close the gap, making his debut later that season. Since, Zach has become a regular contributor, and played in the MLR Championship.

“We’re always looking for quality talent from the collegiate and club realms”, said Tom Kindley, General Manager. “Growing the sport in America and winning games aren’t mutually exclusive and we take pride in developing these players in our high performance environment, then seeing them execute in the MLR.”

What pathways exist for players and youth today?  

The Free Jacks Academy, led by Thomas Grant focuses on providing participation development opportunities across New England.  

 

Learn to play and participation initiatives:

The Free Jacks Academy have founded many learn-to- play (LTP) programs, working with local schools,YMCAs, and Boys & Girls Clubs across New England. In 2023 more than six thousand children participated in Free Jacks community and academy events, many of whom had never played rugby before. The Free Jacks community initiative “Rugby in a Bag” provides all the necessary equipment for schools and clubs looking to offer youth rugby programs. To find out more contact thomas.grant@freejacks.com

 

Junior Pathways

In 2020, Free Jacks founded academy regional training groups (RTG’s), these training groups are designed to feed the Free Jacks Academy teams. The Junior Jacks are the official junior development squad (18 and under, boys and girls) for the New England Free Jacks. The Junior Jacks not only feed the Free Jacks, but also work alongside the USA Mens and Womens national teams as part of the USA Rugby National Development Program.

 

New England Independents

The New England Independents are a select squad of high potential players  from clubs across New England. Kyle Ciquera, Cameron Davidowicz, and Ethan Fryer are all Free Jacks players that began their professional rugby careers with the Free Jacks senior academy squad, The New England ndependents. If you are interested in becoming a New England Independent, please contact thomas.grant@freejacks.com

how can i get myself or my child on the free jacks radar?  

On the 9th of March, before the Free Jacks home opener the Free Jacks Academy will be holding an Academy Combine for all players aged 14 and over. This combine will see participant’s execute a range of different skill/technique based stations while being evaluated by Free Jacks Staff and Players. The combine will also involve basic fitness, speed, and range of motion testing. All players will receive personal feedback upon completion of the combine via email.

This combine is open to all male and female players throughout New England at all levels.

 Click here for more information. 

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