TRAVERSE CITY — Like many young athletes, Phillip Thiel had dreams of playing a professional sport.
When he realized that football, wrestling and track would only take him so far, he tried out rugby in his senior year while attending Traverse City West High School in the early 2000s.
Thiel joined T.C. Alliance, the youth rugby club, and quickly excelled. After he graduated from West in 2003, he went to Saginaw Valley State University to try football out again.
After one year at SVSU, Thiel then enrolled at Northwestern Michigan College in Traverse City as he prepared to transfer to Indiana University. During that time he played for the men’s Traverse City Blues Rugby Club.
Instead of heading to Indiana, he had the opportunity to play semi-professional rugby in England for Cinderford. Thiel returned to the states where he attended Life University in Atlanta, Ga. in 2007 to continue his rugby career at the collegiate level.
Before Life became a member of the Super League, he played a crucial role in the rugby team’s return to prominence, helping lead the Men’s Club to a Division 1 national championship in 2008, the first title since 2000.
That year Thiel also earned Collegiate All-American honors. While he continued his career at Life, Thiel joined the USA Eagles, the United States professional rugby team, in 2009 as a “hooker” or forward.
“I loved playing Rugby and whether we were playing in front of five people, whether it was my parents and a dog or 70,000 people it was amazing.,” said Thiel. “To have some of those cool experiences and get to travel and represent the country and have some of those stories is pretty cool. Growing up in T.C. I never thought I’d be playing on a national team representing the U.S.”
Thiel took nearly a year-and-a-half off from rugby before due to injuries, before returning to the Eagles in 2013.
He was a part of winning 36 international caps and appeared in two world cups. In 2014, Thiel spent a short time with the Saracens, who went on to win the premiership the following season.
At the conclusion of the 2015 Rugby World Cup, Thiel announced his retirement from test rugby.
Thiel now lives in Atlanta with his wife and two daughters. He currently works as a consultant for a software company and continues to coach rugby as a forwards coach at Life University and is the head coach of the Atlanta Old White Rugby Club.
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