Justin Douglas, pondering what it’s like to be the youngest player on the Canadian senior men’s rugby sevens team, can’t help but chuckle.
“It’s actually not bad,” the 19-year-old Abbotsford native begins. “The boys, they’re actually quite nice to me.”
Douglas pauses a beat.
“Except, I do have to carry around a stuffed moose everywhere.”
The plush toy’s official name is Captain Green, and as a good-natured form of rookie initiation, Douglas’s teammates have required him to haul the moose through airports, into restaurants and into team meetings during international trips with Team Canada.
“On travel days his head is poking out of my bag, but other than that, I’ve got him hanging around my neck or something,” he said with a chuckle.
“I’ve got a love-hate relationship with it. It’s a real conversation starter – everyone wants to know what’s up with that. But then again, I’ve got to carry around a moose.”
Toting Captain Green around is a small price to pay for the amazing rugby experience Douglas has been soaking up with the Canadian sevens squad over the last eight months.
In October 2012, he was named to the team for the Gold Coast Sevens, the first event of the International Rugby Board (IRB) Sevens World Series.
He ended up cracking the roster for seven of the nine World Series events, with trips to Dubai, South Africa, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Japan and England.
Douglas terms the collective experience “surreal.” He’s played in front of 72,000 fans at London’s Twickenham Stadium, and faced off against longtime idols like New Zealand captain DJ Forbes and English speedster Dan Norton.
“I never imagined myself traveling to all these places and playing on the highest stage,” he marveled. “I’m playing against people who last year I looked up to so much. Now, I can’t really afford to give them respect, because they’re running at me.”
Douglas’s next foray into international rugby will be his highest-profile yet. On Monday, he was named to Canada’s 12-man roster for the Rugby Sevens World Cup, which runs June 28-30 in Moscow, Russia.
Canada is in a pool with New Zealand, Georgia and the United States at the 24-team tournament. Our nation has generally been a middle-of-the-pack squad in five prior appearances, but did notch a fifth-place finish in 2001.
“Obviously I’m very excited,” Douglas said. “It’s quite an opportunity to play again for Canada, and the World Cup is quite a special event. It means more to be picked for that.”
Douglas, who joined forces with fellow Robert Bateman Secondary grads Ryan March and Jordan Sandover-Best to help the Canadian junior 15s side to a runner-up finish at the Junior World Rugby Trophy in Chile earlier this month, has the Olympics squarely in his long-term crosshairs.
Sevens rugby will be an Olympic sport for the first time at the Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, and Douglas is well-positioned to be a part of that squad.
“It’s the pinnacle event you can go to in your life,” he said. “That’s the goal I want to get to . . . especially since this is the first Olympics where rugby is involved.”
Douglas’s recent accomplishments are all the more impressive considering he tore the ACL and MCL in his right knee in the fall of 2011, while playing football for the Bateman Timberwolves.
“It feels great now – I can’t tell the difference anymore,” he said. “I’m quite happy with how the recovery went.”