Photos and Story: Mark Janzen
I think it’s best we get one thing out of the way.
This story is about Harley Davidson.
Yes, that’s his name. Yes, it was his father’s idea. Yes, his mother eventually relented.
No, his father never actually rode a Harley. He rode a Honda.
No, Harley has never ridden a Harley. He doesn’t even have his motorcycle license.
Yes, Harley Davidson is a damn good rugby player and that is what this story is about.
If he wasn’t already among the many household names within Major League Rugby, on June 8 the Glendale Raptors winger, who hails from Boise, Idaho, made himself unmistakably known.
With two first-half tries already in the bag against Houston, the 5-9, 185-pound Davidson intercepted a pass from SaberCats scrumhalf Connor Murphy early in the second half and ran more than 50 metres to complete the hat trick.
Not even former Fiji 7s star turned SaberCat winger Josua Vici could catch him.
In the moment, MLR play-by-play man Dallen Stanford uttered what every Raptors fan in attendance was thinking.
“A stunning start from Harley Davidson. He’s my hero.”
In 45 minutes, Davidson, 25, made himself known to the entire MLR community.
Eventually finishing the season with six tries – only Utah’s Tonata Lauti scored more during the regular season – Davidson, who most recently earned a key try in the Raptors semifinal win over Utah, made a season-long statement even his coach couldn’t have predicted.
“We definitely knew he was going to be an asset for us, but did we know he’d do this well for us? No. But really there was no reason why he wouldn’t be successful,” says Glendale coach David Williams. “It was a matter of when it was going to happen.”
After starring at Life University, where Davidson helped guide the Running Eagles to a D1-A national championship in 2016 before leading his team back to the final in his senior year (2017), the former Snake River Rugby Club speedster found his way to Glendale just prior to the 2017-18 club season.
Following a stint with the Glendale Merlins, which provided the Raptors much of their 2018 roster, Davidson eventually made his MLR debut on April 21. Forty-eight minutes into his first-ever contest in a Raptors kit, and not even a year removed from the lime green of his alma mater, Davidson dotted down.
Two days later, he was named to the MLR’s First XV of the Week.
That was the start.
Then came the Raptors' trip to Houston and a performance that was three years in the making.
On April 9, 2015, Davidson had surgery to repair a torn ACL. The injury happened in his sophomore year at Life. In the moment, it rocked him.
“When that happened, it humbled me and reminded me of what my goals were and where I want to be,” Davidson says. “I’ve been grinding ever since.”
It was in the year after his surgery that he began to unfurl something special. Upon his return, Davidson, who was coached by current Raptors scrumhalf Shaun Davies while with the Running Eagles, launched an upward-trending trajectory that he’s still riding.
“The amount of support I got from my whole team and my coaches was incredible. (They) made me believe that I would come back stronger,” he says, recalling the path to his championship-winning junior campaign. “(And) that whole year was a dream.”
Looking back, the injury, the rehab, the subsequent championship season, and the two years since brought him to Houston with a mental fortitude that was the product, at least in part, of lived experience.
“The biggest battle (for me) is I have to be in the right mindset,” Davidson says.
“Leading up to that game (in Houston), I was in the right mindset. I was looking for work. The harder I worked, the luckier I got.”
Focused breathing. Self-affirmation. Living in the moment.
“I ask myself, ‘How would a champion walk around?’” he says. “If I was the best player ever, how would I carry myself? I try to put myself into that mindset.”
Davidson snatched Murphy’s pass and took off.
“I was just in the right place at the right time and I was just happy to be there to finish the try. As soon as I looked back, I saw Vici was diving for me. That’s when I tried to kick it into another gear.”
To illustrate Davidson’s long-term potential, that try could be the tale. Sound judgement. Sublime decision-making. Speed. Agility. And finding “another gear.”
“He’s quick and agile and he’s very powerful,” Williams says. “He bounces off defenders because he’s lower to the ground and he finishes. He has that pace and top-end speed to back it up.”
It would seem he’s only on the rise, with Davidson aiming to earn more than just MLR success.
“I want to represent my country,” he says. “Either 15s or sevens, I’m willing to put in the work. (And) I don’t just want to make the squad. I want to be a good international player. I want to stand out. I want to be a part of growing rugby in the U.S.”
In Glendale, he’s doing just that.
For the past month and a half, Davidson has been working as a driver with Lyft and Uber. Sometimes the passengers don’t know who is he is, but sometimes they do. That alone is a testament the growth of American rugby.
One day, he dropped a passenger off at a local golf course. Excitedly the man yelled to his friends that a professional rugby player had driven him to the course, while suggesting they come meet Davidson.
“It was kind of embarrassing but it was really cool,” Davidson says.
In that moment, his unique name didn’t matter. To a perfect stranger and his golfing buddies, he was known just because he’s a damn good rugby player.