James Mathews’ reputation is twofold on the Troy campus. To some, he is known as gentle giant and a trusted friend, but on the rugby field, he is known as “Thor,” a player whose name precedes him.
At 5 feet 11 inches and 222 pounds, Mathews is a valued player in Troy’s Rugby Team.
“James has been an adamant leader on and off the field,” said Jordan Nickols, a “flyhalf” on the Troy Rugby team, a biomedical science major from Holtville. “He is one of our fiercest competitors on the field, but he is also a spiritual leader on the team and a man that people look up to and respect as a captain, leader and person in the classroom as well as in the weight room.”
To many in the deep South, rugby is a sport whose rules and objectives are surrounded by mystery. In simple terms, if American football was combined with soccer, this sport would be rugby.
The fierce tackles and continuous play, all without any type of protective pads, make rugby number six in Foxsports.com’s “Top Ten Most Dangerous Sports in the World.”
Mathews had no aspirations to play this sport in college, nor did he even know the rules himself. He played football and participated on the wrestling team in high school, but during his senior year, he broke his leg and lost many of his opportunities to get athletics scholarships for college.
While in weight lifting at the gym in his freshman year, he connected with Anthony Clark, student rugby player who played a part in founding the Troy University’s current rugby team in 2010. Clark invited him to come to one of the rugby practices and see what he thought of the sport. Rugby turned out to be exactly what he was looking for during his experience at Troy.
“When I got to Troy, I thought I would try to walk on to the football team. Then I played rugby,” said Mathews, “Things clicked; I was a big guy and physical, and I enjoyed it, and so I didn’t mind working for it. It is a growing sport and it is an easier avenue to find your way into.”
During the first few practices, Mathew’s physical build and long, blond hair naturally reminded his fellow teammates of the character “Thor,” a Norse god in the recently released, self-titled blockbuster. Of the nickname options, “Thor” stuck.
Today, he is still called by this nickname though he no longer has the long hair of Hollywood’s portrayal of the Norse god. Mathews recently donated 10 inches of his hair to “Pantene Beautiful Lengths,” a charity that partners with the American Cancer Society to produce free real-hair wigs for cancer patients.
Both on and off the field, Mathews proves to be a man of character. “One quality that I respect in him is that both on and off the pitch he demonstrates integrity,” said Josh Harrison, a “lock” on the rugby team and a senior Spanish major from Prattville.
“If he makes a mistake during gameplay he will not hesitate to point it out. If there’s one thing he will not allow himself to do it’s to become prideful,”said Harrison.
In the future, Mathews hopes for an opportunity to play a sport, possibly rugby, at the professional level. Until then, Mathews can be found taking the right steps towards his goals: working out at the gym, studying for classes and breaking up “rucks” on the rugby field.