EAGLE WEEK: Celebrating Kyle Ciquera’s Remarkable Journey to 50 MLR & Free Jacks Caps

by | Apr 14, 2024 | Blog, Featured News, News | 0 comments

Celebrating Kyle Ciquera’s Remarkable Journey to 50 MLR & Free Jacks Caps

When the Free Jacks host the Seattle Seawolves on Saturday’s Mixtape: Metal and Mauls Festival, New England’s favorite prop, Kyle “The Eagle” Ciquera, will be making his 50th Free Jacks appearance during a special occasion in front of friends, family, and a massive community that has grown to love him. If you’ve experienced Free Jacks rugby in any form, you’ve probably seen Ciquera march onto the field with his majestic mullet fluttering in the wind behind him. 

Image featuring: Kyle Ciquera carrying the ball through contact at Veterans Memorial Stadium

He has become quite the sensation across the league, the online rugby community, and most importantly with New England sports fans. Kyle’s likeness has been featured on banners lining Hancock Street in Quincy, ads in the cars of the MBTA’s Red Line, and hilarious memes on the internet. 

“I’m not the one making it so I generally just find it funny, it hasn’t concerned me too much,” says Kyle. “It’s been a good balance between having fun and playing the game which is kind of what the Free Jacks are about.” Ciquera even threw the first pitch for the Red Sox at Fenway Park last year.

Image featuring: Kyle Ciquera at Fenway Park as the Red Sox celebrate the Free Jacks 2023 MLR Championship

Along the Free Jacks’ journey over numerous seasons to becoming champions and now defending the MLR Shield in 2024, Kyle has been a constant in the New England front row and a proud face of the club. He will become the second player to reach his 50th Free Jacks cap milestone, right behind Irish scrumhalf John Poland.

Before he wore the red, white, and blue Free Jacks kit or was christened “The Eagle” by teammates, Kyle was just like the thousands of other kids from New England who happened across rugby sometime in their schooling careers. He grew up in Putnam, Connecticut, a small town not far from the Rhode Island border. Crossing over to the neighboring state, Kyle attended Bishop Hendricken High School, an all-boys Catholic school in Warwick, Rhode Island.

At Bishop Hendricken, a school with storied athletic programs, Kyle was a multi-sport athlete, playing hockey and football. One day his freshman year, he came across a meeting after school that changed his life forever.

Image featuring: Kyle Ciquera during the national anthem at Veterans Memorial Stadium, Quincy. 

“Aw man, in high school there was an info meeting to go for a trip to Montréal for the rugby team,” said Ciquera. “The big seller for me was that I could touch the ball, compared to football where I never could. An added benefit was the conditioning for football.”

For many football players turned to rugby, the idea of being able to take off running with the ball feels like a new sense of freedom. But the rugby experience at Bishop Hendricken was far more influential on Ciquera than just conditioning for football and running the ball. 

“I didn’t really know at the time, but the closeness of the sport and team travel we were able to do was different and awesome,” recalled Kyle. “ The rugby culture and camaraderie of players was awesome.”

The boys on Kyle’s team formed a strong bond on tours of England and Canada, being exposed to the international rugby community.

“For me, the trips were eye-opening to see rugby culture in countries where it is a core sport. It was awesome to see the community and towns get behind the teams,” said the loosehead prop about his first rugby experiences abroad. “In England we had 300 to 400 people coming to watch a high school game.”

For the emerging American rugby player, an international perspective of the sport with larger involvement and attendance can motivate adolescent players to continue their pathway. Luckily for today’s rugby community in New England, the Free Jacks have replicated the international levels of attendance, drawing thousands to Veterans Memorial Stadium every match.

When Bishop Hendricken returned to Rhode Island, they competed against Massachusetts rugby strongholds Belmont, BC High, Xaverian, Needham, Brookline, and Marshfield.

“Belmont was the strongest opposition,” reminisces Kyle. “We won the competition in 2014, my Junior year.” After winning the state competition and representing the Massachusetts Select Team, it was time to make after-graduation decisions. Kyle was granted an opportunity to play rugby while majoring in Finance at St. Bonaventure’s University in New York. Wanting to continue his rugby pathway, the Eagle “decided to pursue it and take it as far as [he] could.”

“And here we are,” said Kyle.

Image featuring: A fan with a face cutout of Kyle Ciquera 

With an elite and fabled Bonnies’ rugby program at his disposal, Kyle was exposed to the next level of his rugby career. St. Bonaventure’s has been a regular in D1A National competitions and was featured on April 6th at the Monumental Sevens tournament hosted by the Free Jacks at Veterans Memorial Stadium. Bonnies took home third place and showcased their sevens skills in the post-Ciquera era. During his time with the Bonnies, Kyle was a three-time First Team D1A Rugby East All-Conference player and a three-time Collegiate All-American. 

One school break in his last semester at St. Bonaventure’s, Kyle received a call from Josh Smith, the first Free Jacks head coach. “Smitty gave me a call to come train with the Free Jacks,” remembers Ciquera. The Free Jacks were preparing for their final two matches in the Cara Cup, a competition organized by the Free Jacks and the four Irish provincial academy sides of Leinster, Munster, Ulster, and Connacht.

“Injuries in the Cara Cup led to me getting an opportunity to play against Connacht A and Leinster A,” said Kyle.

In the formative year before the Free Jacks’ MLR debut, the Cara Cup brought droves of fans to the Irish Cultural Centre in Canton, Union Point in Weymouth, and Harvard’s Mignone Field across the river in Boston. A thrilling exhibition of matches introduced New England rugby to the international community and local fans alike. 

During the Cara Cup, Ciquera was also given the nickname “The Eagle,” a moniker he has worn during his long tenure with the Free Jacks. “I was in the hotel room at the Cara Cup and the only American guy in the room,” laughs Kyle. Most of the American Free Jacks were players who lived locally, so Kyle was bunking with the international boys away from St. Bonaventure’s. “The guys reckon when they saw me that I personified what an American would be.” Ciquera has also personified the Free Jacks organization and the pride of New England as a whole. 

“I’m grateful to represent New England and all the guys I played with over the years who shaped me into the player I am,” states Kyle. “It is also cool to show that New England has a strong rugby product and pathway system.” Shortly after his appearance in the Cara Cup, Ciquera traveled over 9,000 miles to Christchurch, New Zealand where he played with Sumner RFC for three months.

Image featuring: Kyle Ciquera during the 2023 Free Jacks Championship Parade in Quincy, MA

To young rugby players across New England, Kyle is the perfect example of success in the New England rugby pathway. Alongside decades of hard work and dedication by Massachusetts Youth Rugby Organization (MYRO) and New England Rugby Football Union (NERFU), the Free Jacks have organized an in-depth player pathway from the under-nine years old level to professional rugby and representing the United States.

The Free Jacks Academy includes 13 Regional Training Groups to better connect athletes and coaches at the local level. The Academy hosts identification opportunities for athletes to play for the Junior Jacks Academy or the Independents Senior Development Squads in the future. 

To all the young New Englanders beginning their rugby pathway journeys, Kyle says this: “Stay with it, if you have a dream to take your game professionally, stay with it, have confidence, and put in the hard work to go where you want to go.”

On May 5th before their home match versus the Chicago Hounds, the Free Jacks are hosting a Tackling Clinic in partnership with the Patriots Foundation for high school-age players. Free Jacks co-owner, USA 7s Olympian, and three-time Super Bowl champion, Nate Ebner, will host the clinic to educate the next generation of American rugby superstars. 

Image featuring: Kyle Ciquera celebrating in Chicago after the 2023 MLR Champiosnhip Final. 

Ciquera’s pathway to MLR Champion was cemented through his devotion to improving himself and his team as a professional rugby player. He amounts his success to staying true to who he is as a person and believing in himself. “Proving to myself and my coaches that I can play at this level was a big motivator for me,” says Kyle. “There’s a huge difference from the college game to professionally and getting the repetition in practices in games is really important to closing the gap.” Throughout his 50 caps, Kyle has played over 1,700 minutes for the Free Jacks and brought home the team’s first MLR Shield in 2023. As Free Jack #22, Ciquera first debuted in the Free Jacks’ first-ever MLR match, winning against Rugby New York in Las Vegas.

Looking back at the MLR Championship win, Kyle says “All the hard work we put into the season paid off. It was a special moment doing it with a number of guys I enjoy playing with in front of family.” He also thanks his family for their unwavering support: “I think my family is really proud of what I have achieved and I am forever grateful for everything they have sacrificed to allow me to follow my dream.” The Eagle does not forget his roots and in the MLR off-season, he plays for Mystic River alongside his high school teammates and some current Free Jacks.

“Getting into the team culture at a level where guys do it just because they love to play rugby is quite refreshing,” expresses Kyle. As a veteran leader on the Free Jacks and at Mystic River, the 26-year-old prop still has his whole rugby career ahead of him. With his 50th cap right around the corner on April 13th, Kyle describes his pre-match perspective: “I take every game the same, I prepare the same way, and I’m excited to rip in and get another win.”

Get your tickets HERE to come and watch Kyle “The Eagle” Ciquera make his 50th appearance for the Free Jacks as they look to continue their run at the top of the Eastern Conference against Seattle at 2:00 PM on Saturday, April 20 at Veterans Memorial Stadium. The match will be broadcast on NBC Sports Boston and The Rugby Network

Join the Free Jacks at the Mixtape: Metal & Mauls Festival before and after the match! Rock out to some serious headbangers with hair band classics being shredded by The Brat Pack pre-match in the Fan Zone and Aquanett post-match down on the pitch. Get the hairspray ready, dust off that denim, and be prepared to belt out your favorite 80s Metal anthems!

For more opportunities to engage with the Free Jacks community, stay updated on future Free Jacks matches, festivals, and announcements through the Free Jacks’ news page: www.freejacks.com/news

Written By:

Colin Elliott

Staff Writer, Intern, @ New England Free Jacks

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