Jersey City native gets Robert David Peraza Annual Rugby Scholarship

Yueh Ho The Jersey Journal 

Jersey City resident Eamonn Matthews always dreamed of being the star player on a collegiate team. During his childhood, he would often picture himself as the star quarterback or a stud baseball player. But in eighth grade, he gave rugby a shot and fell in love with the sport.

Eamonn Matthews was awarded the Robert Peraza rugby scholarship from St. Bonaventure University, a Division 1 program in the Rugby East conference. (Photo courtesy of Terry Matthews)

Eamonn Matthews was awarded the Robert Peraza rugby scholarship from St. Bonaventure University, a Division 1 program in the Rugby East conference. (Photo courtesy of Terry Matthews)

Matthews never looked back and committed himself fully to the new challenge. Now his collegiate dream will come true as he was awarded the Robert Peraza rugby scholarship by St. Bonaventure University, a Division 1 program in the Rugby East conference.

“It’s awesome, because it’s a great honor and a great feeling. A small amount of people are nominated for it and to actually receive it is something I can’t put into words. It’s such a great feeling, ” Matthews said.

Matthews, a senior, is currently the starting scrumhalf at Xavier High School (1-0) in New York City, the No. 4-ranked high school rugby program in the country according to GoffRugbyReport.com. He participated in USA Rugby’s High School All-American Camp in December, and was also selected to The State Rugby Organization of New Jersey’s Regional All-Star Tournament in Pittsburgh in July.

His ambition until middle school was to win the Heisman trophy playing quarterback for Notre Dame. Unfortunately, he grew to be just 5-foot-8, well below the six-foot average of a college quarterback.

Rather than give up on his dream of an athletic scholarship, Matthews adjusted it. He tried out other sports, but took an instant liking to rugby.

“Growing up I played football a lot, I played baseball a lot – I loved it. But at the end of the day, I’m 5-foot-8, 160 pounds. I’m not getting a football scholarship, I’m not getting a baseball scholarship. So those weren’t in my options, ” he said. “To get money for a sport that I found relatively late, I started playing in eighth grade and in high school, I fell in love with it instantly. I think it’s the best sport in the world.”

What Matthews loves about rugby is the camaraderie innate to the sport. While football is a team sport, Matthews views rugby as even more of a group effort. A rugby player is ultimately only as good as the players around him.

“If you don’t have a star running back, or a star quarterback or that one player, your team’s not doing too well. Likewise in basketball, you need one or two playmakers to turn it on and sometimes carry your team. In rugby it is complete and utter trust, ” Matthews said.

Rugby excellence was of course a requirement for the Robert Peraza scholarship. But the award, which honors St. Bonaventure alumnus Robert Peraza, who was killed during the 9/11 terror attack on the World Trade Center, is also dependent on academic merit.

According to his father Terry Matthews, the dean of students at Hudson Catholic High School, what separates Eamonn from other athletes is his relentless work ethic.

“He’s proof that hard work really does pay off, ” Terry said. “He put in countless hours working even by himself, going up to a field in the summer working on passes, working on kicking.”

Now Eamonn can look forward to building a new sense of camaraderie with a whole new cast of teammates.

“All 15 guys you have to trust to do their job at the same time. There’s no blocking, there’s no throwing the ball forward, you only pass it back, ” he said. “It’s not a blind pass every time, you’re expecting that guy to be there. It instantly creates brotherhood.”

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