GLENDALE, Co. — Ever since he was a little kid, Paulding graduate Jarrett Sitton loved football.
And he still does too. Growing up a Cleveland Browns fan, his parents instilled the love of football in him from a young age, and that love grew into a passion.
A passion that led him first to the Paulding High School football team, then to Findlay University football, then to Ohio Northern University football.
Sitton wanted his next destination to be professional football. The top goal obviously being the NFL but in reality, any professional league would do.
His drive to become a professional football player led him to a combine in Indianapolis. It wasn’t the NFL combine but it was still a place that Sitton knew he could get professional eyes on himself, he just had no idea that one of those pairs of eyes wasn’t there for his football skills — they were there to recruit him to rugby.
That has led him to the current day in Glendale, Colorado, where he plays rugby for the American Raptors, a team made up entirely of crossover athletes from football to rugby.
“I met the general manager and president of the American Raptors at the combine in Indianapolis and the rest is history,” Sitton said. “They gave me the option where I’d be able to play rugby and then if a football opportunity came along, they’d be okay with that too.”
It wasn’t a journey that Sitton expected to have in the slightest, but it is one that he is grateful to be on.
“If you would have told me five years ago ‘hey, you’re going to go to two different colleges then you aren’t going to play football professionally, you are going to play rugby professionally,’ I would have called you crazy,” Sitton said. “But here I am and it is just so crazy to think how far I’ve come in this time. It’s been a weird journey, but it is one that I would never trade for anything.”
Sitton played all over the field at Paulding from 2012-15, playing offensive and defensive line primarily but also getting some reps in at tight end and wide receiver as well.
He was a first-team all-NWC offensive lineman in his senior season but he was able to garner college looks at defensive line and that is where he spent all of his time at the college level.
He started at Findlay University but then transferred to Ohio Northern a year in where he played until this most recent fall season in 2022.
When no football teams came calling after his senior year at Ohio Northern, Sitton knew that he had to give rugby a shot.
For him, it wasn’t that the opportunity to give rugby a try was too good to pass up, it was that he didn’t want to let any opportunities go to waste.
“It was an opportunity where I was telling myself coming in that ‘if I don’t take this, I’ll kick myself forever if I didn’t even take the chance,’” Sitton said. “I was very skeptical going in because I was going into a sport that I didn’t really know about.”
That skepticism faded away quickly when Sitton understood what the American Raptors were about and that they genuinely believed he had a good skillset and body for the sport of rugby.
Being that he was on a team completely made up of other players that crossed over from football, it meant that when Sitton traveled to Colorado, he wouldn’t be alone, in fact he’d be surrounded by players that were in a similar situation as him.
It is for that specific reason that the Raptors are not currently in a rugby league. They used to be a member of Major League Rugby, but left the league with the goal to grow the sport in the United States with U.S. only players. The MLR is made up mostly by non-American born players.
The Raptors will travel all over the world to play whoever they can get experience from and that along with the move to Colorado has been something of a change of pace for Sitton, who had lived in Ohio his entire life.
“It certainly was overwhelming at first, going from little tiny corn towns to the big city of Denver,” Sitton said of the move. “I guess all I can say is that I’m fortunate for my teammates and coaches, many of whom played at Division I colleges far from home, for helping me make this as comfortable as it could be in such a different environment.”
The game of rugby is also new to Sitton however as he is only seven weeks into the journey but he is loving the experience of a new challenge and new sport to learn, though it isn’t as difficult as it may sound.
“It has definitely been a learning curve,” Sitton said of learning how to play rugby. There are a lot of different nuances that are similar to football though because football was actually based off of rugby so there are still things that I do that are really things I’ve been doing my whole life,” Sittion said.
“I’ve really enjoyed learning this game and I’m really excited to keep learning because there is still so much to learn,” Sitton continued. “It’s just never ending, it’s engaging and you never get too comfortable because there is always something else you can learn.”
One of the more challenging things for Sitton hasn’t been the strategy of the game and how to play it, but more the physical acumen it takes to play rugby rather than football.
“With football you are so used to going as hard as you can for about ten seconds and then getting a break. With rugby you are constantly just running around all the time,” Sitton said.
Sitton plays the position of tighthead, which is very similar to that of what an offensive linemen would do in football.
“You are usually taking on the force of two different people,” Sittion said of the position he plays. “So it is usually your biggest, strongest guy that can withstand the pressure of two different people but also be able to give a good push with the rest of your team.”
Though Sitton’s love for rugby continues to grow, he would still jump at the opportunity to play professional football if that opportunity would present itself.
For now though he is continuing to play rugby and learning the game and he has a specific goal in mind for the sport of rugby as well.
The American Raptors are a team that want to help make the United States more competitive on the world rugby stage. As a result, there are players on the Raptors that play for the national rugby team and when Sitton agreed to play rugby a big reason why it interested him was the allure of potentially playing for his country.
For Sitton the opportunity to do that would be well worth the skepticism and the leap of faith it took to move to Colorado to play a sport he never dreamed he would be playing five years ago.
“Ever since I can remember I have dreamed about representing my country. And with football that is something that probably wouldn’t be able to happen,” Sitton said. “So when they told me that they could develop me into a player that could represent the country on a national stage that’s all it took for me.”
“To be able to say a little guy from a little town in Paulding could be able to do something that cool and represent my family and my community would be awesome.”