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Air Force World Class Athlete Program

Air Force captain returns to join new Seawolves rugby team

Northwest Guardian

Published: 02:02PM October 26th, 2017

Major League Rugby’s Seattle Seawolves’ inaugural season in 2018 will be a homecoming of sorts for Air Force Capt. Eric Duechle. The former member of the Air Force’s World Class Athlete Program has played in the Seattle area and was administratively assigned to Joint Base Lewis-McChord in 2015.

The Seawolves announced that Duechle was signed Oct. 17 with experience representing the Air Force as a collegiate All-American for the Air Force Academy in 2008 and helping the Air Force win the 2011 Armed Forces Championship.

He has also participated in a USA Falcons 15s rugby tour and joined the Air Force’s World Class Athlete Program in 2013 through 2016.

“Eric is an exceptional athlete who is blessed with great speed and power,” said Seawolves co-founder Adrian Balfour. “He is a leader who drives forward and has the potential to be a major contributor to the team’s overall success.”

After spending 2014 at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif., Eric had some individual struggles during his time with the Air Force WCAP in 2015 that led to him being sent to work with the Seattle Saracens Rugby Club. This also meant he was assigned to McChord Field.

“(The national team) was very focused on team chemistry and team movement and development,” Duechle said. “I never really had the time or the knowledge, or the hard work, to work on my own individual skills.”

Duechle said getting demoted was a blessing in disguise. The lead coach of the Saracens program was Waisale Serevi — a member of the World Rugby Hall of Fame who earned the nickname “The Wizard” representing the Fiji’s national club.

Serevi and his staff were mentors for Duechle, who said he was able to improve the finer skills of his individual rugby game, as well as tackling a psychological handicap he said he had struggled with.

“I was always very athletic, but I was always afraid of my weaknesses,” Duechle said.

He is excited about what he brings to the Seattle Seawolves through his military experience, he said. Playing rugby while serving in the Air Force has given Duechle plenty of opportunities to play against top-tier talent — whether through other military teams or clubs in countries like Australia and New Zealand.

He also believes that anyone who can find success in the military rugby community can make a successful transition at any level.

“There are so many opportunities when you are at the upper echelon of military rugby,” Duechle said. “You can take that to your local club or a professional club.”

Duechle is currently working in the Red Flag Program as a cyberspace officer at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. Although his official last day in the Air Force is March 15, 2018, he will be able to start terminal leave Dec. 29 and report to the Seawolves in January.

Duechle is hoping to be part of the veteran leadership that helps establish a culture for one of the founding members of Major League Rugby.

“We just need to come together and decide what it is we want to be known for,” Duechle said. “What is it that we want to have accomplished?”

Duechle and the Seawolves will kick off the inaugural Major League Rugby season in spring 2018, along with six other clubs. An official schedule has not been released yet, but the team will be playing home games at Starfire Sports in Tukwila.

“We expect to see the full power of the JBLM rugby community cheering Eric and the rest of the team on,” said Shane Skinner, Seawolves co-founder. “We look forward to building a strong fan base at JBLM, and they should expect to hear more about special promotions, discounts and exciting offers that will be special for our military service members and their families.”

For more information about the team, visit seattleseawolves.com.

Dean Siemon: 253-477-0235, @deansiemon