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2016 Olympics: Former Cal rugby star Danny Barrett leaves mark in Rio

Jaclyn Chung/Cronkite News

RIO DE JANEIRO Before he was an international star, USA rugby player Danny Barrett was a standout at Cal.

The 26-year-old got his start in rugby when he was in middle school after his older brothers, Jim and Neill, happened upon the sport at the high school level.

“I tagged along to all of the games when I was a sixth, seventh, eighth grader, and then from there it was just kind of a love affair,” Barrett said.

It is a love affair that led Barrett to continue his rugby career at Cal alongside his brothers and under the tutelage of head coach Jack Clark.

“They were experienced rugby players, they had played in high school,” Clark said. “They had a good feel for the game of rugby. I think Danny was special in the fact that on occasion, when it was really needed, he could put the team on his back.”

Barrett credits Cal for his development both on and off the field.

“It’s a program that grows men as well as rugby players,” Danny said. “(The coaches are) all teaching you how to be a better man in society, and that’s kind of the biggest thing I took out of the program, was how to hold yourself, how to walk around with you shoulders back, if something goes wrong it’s time to roll up your sleeves and get a job done.”

Keri Barrett, mother of Jim, Neill and Danny, echoed Danny’s thoughts about the Cal program.

“It taught them appreciation and responsibility for their school, even for us,” Keri said. “They put a lot on themselves to make us proud of them…I think they did well by Cal.”

After graduating from Cal in 2013, Danny became a member of the U.S. national team, playing for both the fifteens team and the faster-paced sevens team. Rugby made its return to the Olympics with sevens here in Rio. It is the first time the sport has been included in the Games since 1924.

Danny was named to the U.S. Olympic team in July. He wears No. 3 on his game jersey as a representation of the three Barrett boys and a reminder of who helped him get to where he is today.

“From a young age they picked on me, so it made me a little tougher,” Danny said. “I carry them with me everywhere we go, everywhere we play.”

Despite the fact Neill is older than Danny and had more experience than his younger brother in the sport, Neill said Danny was more teacher than student.

“He might have helped me grow as a rugby player more than I helped him,” Neill said. “He’s a great athlete.”

Even though the U.S. rugby team finished ninth at these games, the Cal alum left his mark here in Rio. Danny scored a try in all three of his starts.

His family made the trip to see him play on the world’s largest sports stage.

“It’s been very exciting and our family has grown because of it,” Keri said. “We’ve seen the world. It’s just been so wonderful.”

Clark couldn’t be more proud to have a former Golden Bear here representing the program at the Olympics.

“It means a lot, first, rugby being back in the Olympics is important,” Clark said. “There’s nothing but credibility about the Olympic Games.

“Those five rings are a credential like no other, so to have our sport in the Olympic Games gives us a great deal of satisfaction and I think we would expect to have a player there.”

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