I was going to write a story about Brian Nault because he was drafted second overall in the inaugural Major League Rugby Collegiate Draft.
Then, on a late-June Tuesday night – some 10 days after the 6-foot-2, 230-pound prop from Central Washington University had been selected by NOLA Gold – I got to know Nault, 23, a little bit more.
Now, I’m writing a story that has little to do with rugby (okay, there’s still a bit about rugby) and is more about Nault, the person – you know the former llama showman who’s terrified of sharks, owns a kangaroo, has become both a wine snob and a beer geek, and who takes a hearty helping of joy from crushing the kid in the red boots.
Cole Zarcone, who was a teammate of Nault’s at CWU and was recently picked by the San Diego Legion in the second round of the draft, summed it up in seven words.
“He is a character and a half.”
That’s accurate. So, let’s go.
Brian was in Grade 8 and was playing football. His older sister, Diandra, was in Grade 11 and was playing rugby.
The conversation went something like this:
Diandra: “Hey Brian, you should really try rugby. You know it’s way tougher than football.”
Brian: “There’s no way. That’s impossible. Football is way tougher.”
Diandra: “Just try it.”
Brian: “All right. I’ll do it and I’ll prove you wrong.”
He went out to a practice at the Shelton Rugby Club.
“I never stopped going,” Brian says. “I couldn’t get enough of it. She was right. Rugby is a lot tougher, physically and mentally. I stuck with it. And it was all just trying to prove her wrong. It backfired on me in a good way.”
An offensive lineman and middle linebacker on the gridiron, Nault, who enjoyed an unexpected surprise when he learned he could run the ball himself on a rugby pitch, was barely able to walk after his first practice.
“I was dead. It’s so much more fast-paced. It’s different. It’s crazy.”
And so his rugby journey began.
Nault didn’t quit football. Far from it. He started on both sides of the ball in his freshman year at Shelton High School and became a star with the Highclimbers. However, it didn’t take long for his rugby experiment to start taking centre stage.
At 15-years-old and having picked up the sport only two years earlier, Nault made the Washington Loggers roster in 2012 and, from there, he became a mainstay within the state-wide select side. He then earned the chance to represent his country with the High School All-Americans in 2013 and 2014, taking tours to England, Portugal, France and Argentina. In 2015, prior to his senior year of high school, he stepped up to USA’s U20 side for a series with Canada.
Amidst all the success and the world travelling, back home in Shelton was another locally famed corner of his life. His name was Roo Roo.
The Nault family’s pet kangaroo came home with Diandra from Arkansas when Roo Roo was a joey. When they went to the grocery store, they tucked him into a handbag that acted like a pouch. When they went for walks, Roo Roo hopped alongside attached to a leash with a stretchable harness. In a town with a population just over 10,000, the Naults were known for their kangaroo.
“It became part of the family.”
These days, Roo Roo is six feet tall and roams a large section of the Nault’s acreage just a few miles north of Shelton.
“He’s a gentle giant,” Nault says.
Before Roo Roo, llamas took up Brian’s time (don’t worry, I think we can find a rugby connection here). He’d show them in 4-H. Let’s assume this is where he developed his ever-present positive persona.
So, umm, what does it take to show llamas?
“A lot of patience,” Nault says with a laugh, slowing his words as he goes. “A lot of patience.”
Do they listen?
“Some of them do. Mine didn’t.”
Dancer was eventually sold and became a pack animal.
After the llamas were gone and with Roo Roo fully grown, Nault took his next step into the animal kingdom. He tried swimming with sharks. Okay, well sort of.
Prior to arriving at CWU, Nault, alongside now-capped USA international Hanco Germishuys, were granted scholarships from the United States Rugby Foundation to attend The Sharks Academy for four weeks in Durban, South Africa. There, he experienced the sport in a rugby-mad country, soaking in what it takes to succeed in an almost 24/7 type of rugby environment rarely witnessed stateside.
While down there, he literally swam in shark-infested waters.
Okay, fine, we’ll bring it back a bit. At a local aquarium, patrons can enter the shark tank in a cage. One day, Nault joined the fray.
“That was crazy,” Nault says. “I won’t do it again. No. No.”
So, what was it like?
His voice gets louder and more serious.
“Are you kidding me? They’re sharks. I’m not a good swimmer as it is. I hated every minute of it. I was screaming. All the locals were laughing at me.”
He just keeps developing his “character.”
He came home shortly thereafter and soon enough he was residing in hay-rich Ellensburg, Washington – nowhere near sharks.
At CWU, his rugby dreams percolated.
Playing at No. 8 throughout high school, Nault was in his second year when Wildcats coach Todd Thornley moved him to the front row.
“I was born to play prop,” Nault says. “I had to learn all the techniques and the trade skills of a front-rower, but I love it. I can’t imagine playing any other position. I just love that battle.”
With his incoming rugby pedigree, Thornley knew he had something special from the outset.
“You can’t not respect him. He’s been our best forward for the last four years and his impact has been massive.”
Nault has been instrumental in developing the team and the culture of the Wildcats. On the pitch, the greatest barometer may just be CWU’s win this past spring over traditional rugby power Brigham Young University. The Wildcats won 51-7 to earn their first-ever victory over the Cougars. In Nault’s previous four years, they were 0-7 against the Utah-based side.
“That feeling was the best feeling I’ve felt in a game,” Nault says. “We’ve always had our butts kicked by them. We got closer and closer, but this year the whole team came together and got the job done.”
While his on-field work was relentless – he’s one of those super annoying opponents who never quits…ever – his leadership was equally as valuable to the success of one of the top programs in the country.
“Brian has helped transform our culture in a massive way,” Thornley says. “The best thing about Brian is he never seems to have a bad day, but he’s also a confrontational leader. What I mean by that, is that if a standard is not being reached, he’ll address it and address it in a really helpful way. He’ll help his teammates reach those standards.
“He’s just a unique human being and he’s a super fun guy to be around. He’s a dude who you can always count on. He’s a great team player and a great leader. But at the same time, he’s very serious about rugby. He has an ability to flick the switch. He can have fun and have a bit of a laugh with the boys and still get the work done.”
That was particularly evident against “red boots.”
Nault can’t remember what team CWU was playing. All he remembers were the red boots.
Wildcats teammate Max Riseham, who hails from Hull, England, yelled out.
“Brian. Red boots. Get ‘em.”
Nault recalls the moment.
“I saw red and I went for it. I smacked him. It was amazing and Max is just jumping up and down. That always stuck with me.”
NOLA Gold fans ought to be psyched for his arrival.
Fortuitously, Nault already has a beer he’s made to appropriately celebrate the occasion.
He’s been a beer guy for a few years. “I love making beer. That’s my thing.”
And what’s the best beer you’ve made?
“Naughty Nault’s Golden Ale.”
It’s almost too perfect of a match.
And Nault’s not just a casual home brewer. When he came to CWU, he enrolled in the school’s Craft Brewing Program. As it turned out, he switched his major to the Global Wine Trade program and is now both a wine snob and beer guy.
“I hate to say it, but I’m kind of a wino.”
He’s that person with the wine journal, swirling the wine, looking at the legs, breathing it in, swishing it around his mouth and then breaking down the components.
“My friends kind of all just stare at me.”
When the rugby thing is all done, he has dreams to open a business combining craft brewing and wine making.
However, you get the feeling that part of his life is likely still several years down the road. His rugby-playing adventure is just starting to find its way.
Settle in. I think you might want to follow along.