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For Malon Al Jiboori it was NFL or Rugby: Lucky Us, Rugby Won

Will Magie likes to call Malon Al-Jiboori “Gain Line.” It makes sense. With ball in hand, the 6-foot-3, 229-pound flanker is a beast. For the product of Tulsa, Oklahoma, he’s a tidy variety platter of quickness and physicality.

At only 22 years old, and having been capped just five times, the World Cup-bound Al-Jiboori is just beginning to investigate his rugby potential.

He was in a hotel room in downtown Vancouver when he took my call. He was a day out from playing against Canada in the USA’s final RWC tune-up, two days away from officially being named to the Eagles Japan-bound 31-man roster (at the time, he didn’t know if he’d be on the flight), and a year removed from making the decision to leave USA Rugby’s sevens program to pursue the World Cup.

It’s been a bit of a wild ride.

My older brother Michael is the one who started playing rugby first. He played at my high school (Union) when he was a senior. I went to one his practices one day and decided I’d start playing in my junior year.

I was really involved in football because my high school was big into football, and I was really devoted to trying to play college football. But that one day, during the off-season, I showed up to (rugby) practice and the rest is history.

At first, I thought it was too much and it was crazy that people played with no pads. I thought it was ludicrous. But then I got used to it and it came naturally.

I loved the attitude and atmosphere and environment of everyone. And I like that I get to play both sides of the ball, which allows me to use my talents on both sides. And then there’s the travel and the people you meet – that’s what I love about rugby.

Football was everything. I studied football every night. But when I found rugby, everything changed.

I was committed to go to a JUCO (junior college) for football and two weeks before school started I decided I wanted to play rugby. Then the next week I’m moving into Lindenwood (University) to start my freshman semester. I started to realize what I could be in rugby compared to football. I was an average football player, so I thought rugby had a high ceiling.

After my freshman year, I went and trained with the Brumbies (Super Rugby) for three months and played club level there (Uni-Norths Owls) and that was an awesome experience. It was rugby 24/7. I really learned a lot from the older players. Being on the same field as David Pocock and Christian Lealiifano was unreal. But I actually learned a lot from the first-grade Owls.

Right before I started my sophomore year (in 2016), I got contacted by Mike Friday to see if I wanted to move into the residency program for the (USA Rugby) Sevens team.

I feel like Sevens is the most exciting sport in the world. It’s fast-paced and it’s easy to enjoy. For me as an athlete, Sevens improved my skill-set. I met a lot of people and had new experiences.

I tore my hamstring in the Paris Sevens (in 2018), so unfortunately I had to miss out on the Rugby World Cup Sevens. I got fully fit again and then I decided to go to Glendale (to join the Raptors) for the 2019 MLR season.

It was a tough decision to go back to 15s, but I felt like if I wanted to put in my best effort to make it to the World Cup, I should devote all my time to training full-time for 15s. Moving to Glendale (from San Diego) – obviously it was colder … it was really cold – but it worked out in a way. It made me grow as a person and helped me face adversity and embrace new challenges and definitely helped me get to where I am.

Sevens is a love-hate relationship. With Sevens, I love to travel and I love the speed of the game. But the conditioning aspect is not my forte. But, if had to pick, I honestly probably couldn’t. I enjoy both.

Away from the field, I like to read. I think it’s really grown on me. I’m a criminal justice major, so that stuff really intrigues me. I find myself reading a lot. I just read a book about the Zodiak Killer. It’s pretty dark stuff, but I’m a criminal justice major, so I like that type of stuff.

Right now I don’t have plans on what I’m going to do after the World Cup. Sevens is an option I could have potentially, but I haven’t really decided what I really want to do. I’m honestly open to either. But right now I’m focused on 15s.

For Al-Jiboori, the coaster continues in Japan. Don’t blink.