MARIETTA, Ga. — Atlanta's newest professional team is hard at work.
Rugby ATL is one of three Major League Rugby expansion teams, with the others being Washington D.C. and New England. The players reported December 2 and are a couple weeks into their preseason training. The regular season kicks off in February.
"We've got a lot of buy in from the players," assistant coach Blake Bradford said. "They knew it was going to be tough these first couple of weeks. We're throwing a lot at them."
The team is trying to gain support through Atlanta's growing diversity. The league did its own market research and determined there were more than 1 million people interested in professional rugby in the metro Atlanta area, according to Olivia White, the team's director of marketing.
"Rugby is worldwide. It's played all over because all you really need is that ball and some patches of grass," forward Jason Damm said. "I think having so many cultural influences here is huge for this sport."
Rugby ATL is doing everything it can to embrace the community, a strategy similar to Atlanta United F.C. It would be smart for the young program to mirror some of the tactics the MLS team did to gain substantial support.
Their kits will feature a map of the city of Atlanta across the entire chest. Players have already begun doing work with the local community, recently visiting a beaten women's shelters and working with Atlanta Youth Rugby to grow the game.
Team executives have met with support groups from Atlanta United to try and gain support and establish fan support at Life University, where the team will play its matches.
"They've showed what sports fans in Atlanta can do and how their support can influence a team's production. We got some of those fans to come over and they're going to be in our rowdier fan section leading some chants and cheers," Damm said.
Rugby ATL has built a lot of its foundation from Life's rugby program, beginning with taking head coach Scott Lawrence from the Division I program. Lawrence brought with him some of his assistant coaches and staff members.
Life has won four national championships in rugby, and Harley Wheeler is one of the program's alum on the inaugural roster. Rugby ATL's 36-man roster will feature mostly young talent looking to develop and grow at the professional level. This isn't a league interested in bringing too many washed-up players from around the world.
Rugby ATL's roster is made up of players around the world, and players who have played in World Cups. It also includes Damm, a Marietta native who has come home to play for the inaugural team. He played with the Glendale Raptors before signing with Atlanta last month.
"Being able to represent the city of Atlanta and the southeast is super exciting for me. Putting the city map literally on our jerseys is something I'm looking forward to."
Damm is a fan of many Atlanta teams, his first love being the Falcons. He knows about the city's struggling sports scene, and hopes Rugby ATL can deliver success quickly.
"We want to strive for the best and the best is a championship. If we can bring that to the city of Atlanta, we're more than happy to."
Rugby ATL plays its first match Feb. 9, 2020 against the Utah Warriors.