Memphis almost had a National Champion in 2008 with our beloved Tigers but Derrick Rose missed that free throw, Mario Chalmers made that 3-pointer, Calipari left town, and we haven’t come close since- until now.
A local rising basketball star picked up a rugby ball for the first time in 2012 when the unfamiliar sport was introduced to his high school. Donovan Norphlet who also showed potential as a Quarterback disappointed some of his coaches by deciding to give rugby a try. The mild mannered, soft spoken, polite young man showed that his athleticism could translate into rugby seamlessly. He attended Power Center Academy (PCA) where he was a member of the school’s first graduating class as a sophomore. It wasn’t until 2015 when PCA had its first senior class which included Donovan and his teammates.
Despite Donovan’s talent and heart, PCA struggled to win games when their oldest players were 16 and their opponents starting rosters were filled with 18-year-old seniors. Three years later, Donovan led PCA to a conference championship. A few months later, Donovan made history by signing a scholarship to play rugby at Life University, one of America’s best rugby programs.
Like all freshman, Donovan joined the JV squad a Life U where he got acclimated to the college level of play, and got familiar with the team’s system. It wasn’t until 2016 (his 2nd semester) that Donovan “Turned the corner” according to Life Coach/Recruiter Colton Cariaga. Impressing coaches and teammates, Donovan was invited to play against the Boston Irish Wolfhounds when he scored a try in his first game playing at the higher level. Life won that game with Donovan on the roster. Life’s Varsity team advanced to the D1A College National Championship, and the coaching staff informed him he’d be on the starting roster for the game- the only freshman in that category. Less than a week later, Donovan was on a plane headed to California to play for a national title.
“Number 5, from Memphis, Tennessee- Freshman Donovan Norphlet.” With those words the PA commentator made this dream real for all of us in the 901, and Donovan took it from there. 80 minutes later Donovan was wearing a muddy jersey, sore body, and a national championship medal.
Memphis Inner City Rugby was founded in 2012 to expand academic and athletic opportunity to Memphis’ low-income communities through the power of rugby. This story was a far-out dream for our organization and it has come true in just 4 short years. We have many more student-athletes like Donovan coming through our programs with similar or greater ability. We thank Donovan, his family, Life University, Power Center Academy, and everyone who played a part in bringing a national title to Memphis.