Penn High School's Nick Hardrict II received a very cherished item for a teenager this past Thursday.

The Kingsmen senior passed his driver's test and was awarded his license.

Safe to say it was a great moment for Hardrict.

A great way to cap the summer for Hardrict, who along with another Penn product Noah Brown, can say their lives have been impacted by playing the sport of rugby.

Hardrict and Brown's standout play for Penn at the National Rugby Championship in Utah last May got the attention of under-18 USA rugby coach Brendan Keane. 

The duo was selected to play for the under-18 team this past summer. 

"I was really surprised that I got picked," admitted Hardrict.

By being selected for the team, Hardrict and Brown were automatically High School All-Americans and would be representing the U.S. in matches against Canada in early July.

Playing in Victoria, British Columbia, the team faced Canada's under-18 squad in two exhibition matches and a regular international contest.   

The U.S. won the exhibitions, 24-7 and 27-7, on July 7th and 10th, and won the final international match on July 14th, 46-43.

"That's the best game I've been a part of," said Brown about the match on July 14th. "It was at the highest level I've ever played at and we were down 40-24 in the second half and we came back in the last few minutes and made it 46-43. It was a great game to be a part of and so happy that we won."

Brown started at wing and scored once. 

"You have to play good defense and give the ball up in open spaces in 1-and-1's and provide scoring opportunities," Brown said about the role of his position.

Hardrict played fullback for the under-18 team and started in the first two games against Canada.

"It was fun," he said about the experience. "There was good competition. The last match was really close and intense.

"For my position I kind of have to play like a safety in football. If anyone breaks the line I have to make a tackle and try to prevent them for scoring. I also catch kicks and direct our line to be in the right spots."

Hardrict, who started playing rugby during his freshman year of high school, also plays on the Kingsmen football team where he starts at cornerback and is a kick returner. He was an All-Northern Indiana Conference selection as a junior. 

"I've played football my whole life and I wanted to pick up another sport," Hardrict said. "It was going to be rugby or track in the spring and I chose rugby. I just enjoy playing rugby."

Hardrict was asked what his football coach Cory Yeoman thinks of him playing rugby.

"He likes it and supports me a lot and has been to a lot of my games," Hardrict said. "He watched live stream when we played Canada.

"Rugby keeps me in good shape for football."

Brown is playing rugby this fall at Western Michigan University. At Penn, along with playing rugby for four years, he played football his freshman year and was a wrestler. As an 182-pounder, Brown qualified for state in wrestling, but he didn't compete at state because of a shoulder injury he suffered at semi-state.

"I wouldn't have been as good in rugby if I hadn't wrestled," Brown said. "The contact aspect of wrestling really helped me for rugby.

"I like playing rugby because you have multiple roles, compared to having only one position in football. In rugby, you can carry the ball, tackle and pass."

When it comes to safety, rugby differs from football.

"There are no pads in rugby and you just wear a mouthpiece, but there are rules," Hardrict II said. "There are ways to fall and tackle for players to stay safe to help players stay on the field. A high tackle, depending on how bad it is could get a player a yellow or red card. The officials watch that more in rugby compared to football."

Penn, which had 57 players last year on its rugby team, is the only single-school rugby team in the area. A lot of schools combine to make up club teams. 

It's not a sanctioned sport by the IHSAA, which gives schools the opportunity to travel for matches.

This year, the Kingsmen will travel to the east coast, Tennessee and the Carolina's for matches. 

"We did a tour in London last year during spring break," Hardrict added.

If you listen to Brown and Hardrict, the future for the sport of rugby looks bright.

"I definitely think it's growing at a fast rate, especially the 7-on-7 matches," Brown said. "There's a lot of action in those matches and the fans really like it."

"There's definitely a lot more people at Penn wanting to play the sport," Hardrict said. "No one knew about the sport when I got started in it. Now, everyone is attending my games and showing support."

Hardrict, who will be playing for the USA under-18 team for a winter series in California against Canada, wants to stay heavily involved in rugby after high school. 

"I really want to play rugby in college," he said.

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