Cam Dolan threw a 45-yard touchdown strike on his first play of freshman football at Palmetto Ridge High School. Eight games later, his team was undefeated and parents and friends told his father Terrey that Cam could end up playing for the Florida Gators.
Cam never played football again.
The Naples native whose sweet swing warranted neighborhood cheers and whose dominance with the puck made him one frightening 4-year-old in an eight-and-under roller hockey league went down a different path than most American kids.
He tried rugby.
While his father Terrey had no prior experience in the sport, he did play tennis while attending the University of South Florida and was a former nationally ranked high-jumper in high school. Given his athletic genes, Cam seemingly had all the physical tools to grow into an elite rugby player. After all, this is the kid whose elementary school PE teacher entered him into the Southwest Florida bracket of the Punt, Pass & Kick competition, which Cam won, of course.
As Terrey put it, “Cam basically came out of the womb growling and swinging.”
Though he probably could have been a great football player, Cam decided to take his athletic talents to the rugby pitch for Steve Young’s Naples Bears. Having already won four high-school club championships, Young was well-established as one of the best high school coaches in the state and Dolan became an instant sensation. Six weeks into his rugby career, he was called up to play for the national U-17 team.
Of course, the game was all new to Terrey, who literally went out and bought a copy of Rugby for Dummies in order to learn the ins and outs of his son’s new passion.
While playing for the U-17 team over in England, Cam’s play drew the attention of hundreds of spectators and even more colleges and universities.
“I had never even personally see him play a rugby game,” his father recalled. “When he got home from that tournament my phone was ringing off the hook from English schools wanting him to come play for them.”
Cam did end up playing in England during the fall of his senior year before returning to the U.S. to finish up high school. However, it didn’t take long before the rugby suitors started calling.
One of those schools was Life University, a private school located in Marietta, Ga. that’s produced several national team stars like Phil Thiel and AJ MacGinty. Cam earned a rare full-ride scholarship to the prestigious rugby powerhouse and went on to become a four-time All-American and national champion for the Running Eagles.
A versatile athlete who also made appearances for the U.S. National Sevens team back in 2011, Cam set his sights on becoming a staple of the U.S. Eagles, the national 15s team.
In only a few years since graduating from Life, Cam has gone from a Florida youth sport star to a bonafide professional rugby player. His size, speed and outstanding collegiate career helped him earn a contract with the renowned Northampton Saints, a professional rugby club based in England. Though Cam’s experience could have gone better, getting through adversity is nothing new. According to Terrey, Cam suffered two torn ACLs during his athletic career, but he’s surprisingly returned faster than ever after both injuries.
Following his stop in Northampton, Cam has since signed a contract with the Cardiff Blues, where he’s expected to earn more playing time while playing a system that’s better suited to his freakish athleticism.
All of the moving around the world has taken its toll on Cam’s family. Terrey, who works as the Director of Planning for Lennar Homes’ Southwest Florida Division, has only been able to see him play in person for a national side a handful of times. That doesn’t mean he’s any less of a fan, as his humble son often has to remind his dad to keep the cheerleading to a minimum.
Even with the pro contract and accolades that come with being a world-renowned athlete, representing his country and giving back to the community is something else entirely worthwhile for Cam.
“It’s not even how great of an athlete he’s fortunate enough to be,” his father said. “He can make friends with the devil’s meaner, older brother. He’s just a humble guy who doesn’t seek the spotlight.”
Avoiding the spotlight is a challenge for a guy who stands 6-foot-6, especially given his prominent spot on the Eagles. Capable of playing loose forward or second row, Cam has settled in as a lock forward for an Eagles team that suffered a critical loss at the spot when veteran Scott LaValla was ruled out for the 2015 Rugby World Cup due to an elbow injury.
While the Eagles face an uphill battle against a tough pool that includes South Africa, Samoa, Scotland and Japan, they have a ton of new blood that could help them score some upsets over in England.
“There may not be more professional players than the 2011 team, but the quality of the athletes overall has greatly increased,” said Terrey.
At the end of the day, whether the Eagles go 4-0 or 0-4, the fact that young home-grown stars like Cam Dolan, Seamus Kelly and Danny Barrett are coming into their own is a fantastic step in the right direction for the growth of rugby in the U.S. This generation of talent will only set the stage for future generations to come through the youth system like Cam, who has clearly made an impact on the youth around the world already.
“While he was with Northampton doing community service work I received personal text messages from parents of disabled kids thanking me for how my son went above and beyond speaking with their children,” Terrey said. “After that I said he would never have to play another minute of rugby for the rest of my life and I’ll be proud.”
Luckily for American rugby fans, we’ll get to see plenty of Cam donning the U.S. colors for a while.