The “Fastest man in rugby” recently helped Team USA qualify for the 2020 Olympic Games
On Dec. 5, Carlin Isles was in Capetown, South Africa, with the USA rugby sevens team when he decided he wanted to get in an extra workout at his hotel.
“I just got back from a training session and I wanted to do some speed work, so I saw a little parking garage and went in there and started sprinting,” he said.
Isles had someone record the session and post a four-second clip to social media, which isn’t unusual if you follow him on Twitter or Instagram.
What was unusual was the response.
“I guess I looked fast running because it just blew up,” said Isles, a Jackson High graduate.
Isles’ original tweet only got about 500 likes and 91 retweets — good, but not amazing numbers for a guy with close to 25,000 followers — but the video quickly went viral. People used it to make inside references to Game of Thrones and Grand Theft Auto. They posted the video alongside jokes about trying to make a 10 a.m. class when you haven’t done anything until 9:58, or statements like “When mom said she made pizza rolls.” Maybe the best one was this: “When your girlfriend says her parents are gone.”
“Fellas, we all know what that means,” he said during a Red Bull ad focused on the video. “But I hope you’re going over there to help your girl get that education.”
When asked if he turned off the notifications for his phone while it was happening, Isles said, “Nah, I just let it ring. I wanted to see what was going on. It was cool.”
Isles has been with Red Bull for several years and was recently featured in an another advertisement that shows him racing metro trains (and winning), cranking up a treadmill to its highest level next to surprised joggers inside a fitness center (he admitted it wasn’t even fast enough for him) and sprinting through an office building, ala the parking garage video.
It’s all a takeoff of his reputation as the “Fastest man in rugby.”
“My partnership with Red Bull has been fun,” he said in a phone interview this week from San Diego. “I love Red Bull as a company. They look after their athletes.”
And Isles is good for Red Bull, both because of his visibility (he drew a lot of media attention during the 2016 Olympics, including a story in Sports Illustrated) and his comfort in the spotlight.
“It’s crazy because when I was younger, I used to interview myself in the mirror,” Isles said. “As for as the TV and filming stuff, I’ve done a lot of it throughout the years, so I got comfortable with it. It’s kind of fun to me.”
Big year ahead
The next 12-14 months will be big for the 29-year-old Isles, who will compete in rugby sevens at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo after helping the U.S. team qualify last month. Isles just won the Gilbert Top Try Scorer trophy, given to the player with the most tries during the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series. (Tries are the rugby equivalent of touchdowns and he finished with 52.) He also won the award last year.
Not bad for a guy who tore his ACL and meniscus in 2017 and also broke his forearm and suffered a high ankle sprain in recent years.
“It shows the way I am, as a man and an athlete, that I was able to fight through adversity and prove people wrong,” he said. “Mostly, I showed myself what I can do.
“I was keen on coming back better and faster than I was before and I ended up doing it.”
The Eagles Sevens — USA’s team name — clinched their Olympic berth by reaching the quarterfinals of the London Sevens after winning two pool play games. The U.S. team is ranked second in the world in the sport behind Fiji.
“Qualifying for the Olympics, that was a great feeling,” Isles said. “That was one of our main goals going into the season. For us to accomplish that, especially getting in the top four (of the London Sevens), that meant everything to us.”
The U.S. finished ninth in rugby sevens at the 2016 Rio Games, which was the first year for the sport at the Olympics.
Isles said the team is much stronger now.
“The core of us has been together for a long time and we’ve gotten a lot closer as a team,” he said. “Our knowledge of the game has gone up and the coaching staff has done a great job of developing us.”
The biggest difference is confidence, Isles said.
“When I look back at previous years, we were worried about who was in our pool or who we were gonna play,” Isles said. “Now, we don’t care who we play. We know we can win. We know we can beat anybody. That belief has changed us.”
Keeping his crown
Australia’s rugby sevens team recently signed a sprinter named Trae “Quadzilla” Williams, leading some to wonder if Isles will have to relinquish his “Fastest man in rugby” title. Williams (who got his nickname because of his freakishly large quadriceps) has run the 100-meter dash in 10.10, while Isles’ best is a 10.13.
Not surprisingly, Isles isn’t having it.
“Yeah, he signed, but he hasn’t played yet,” said Isles, who stands 5-foot-8. “The dude is 5-5. No way I’m losing to a dude that’s 5-5. I know what I can do. I know I’m the fastest man in rugby. If he does play next year, I’m going to race him anyway. I’m not worried about anybody. People can run a sub-10 PB (personal best), but that doesn’t matter to me. When I show up on the line, none of that matters.”
Is that a track starting line, or a grass starting line?
“On track or on grass,” he said. “Me, I’m obsessed with getting faster. Most people don’t know how to run fast and maintain that speed, especially transferring it over to sports. They lose speed and I don’t. I know how to train it and I put in so much extra work.”
Isles is so confident in his speed, he’s hoping to qualify for the 2020 Games in both track and rugby.
“I wanted to do that in 2016, but they had the rugby selections during the Olympic trials, so I told myself that for the next Olympics, I would do both,” he said.
Whether it happens or not, he’s excited about competing in at least one sport next summer.
“Qualifying for the Olympics, it’s a dream come true,” he said. “A lot of people haven’t done that. Coming from Ohio, coming from Jackson, I just wanted to inspire people. If you put something in your mind and truly believe you can do it, it’s possible.”
Talking College Football Hall of Fame
Former Mount Union QB Bill Borchert made the College Football Hall of Fame’s ballot for the fifth straight year, appearing as a candidate in the divisional ranks (i.e. everything above the Football Bowl Subdivision level).
Meanwhile, three Ohio State players made the FBS list: RB Keith Byars, LB James Laurinaitis and OT Chris Ward.
To me, this begs a question: Why isn’t Mike Doss on the ballot?
Turns out, he is. Sort of.
The former McKinley standout was one of five Buckeyes submitted to the district screening committee — there are eight districts nationwide — but didn’t get enough votes to advance.
It’s hard to write about this topic without saying “So and so shouldn’t be on this list ahead of Mike Doss,” which is probably why Doss declined my interview request this week. But I don’t quite understand how Laurinaitis got more votes than Doss. (The other two guys are offensive players from different eras, so it’s not quite apples-to-apples.)
In fairness, Laurinaitis does have a slightly better resume on paper. Both players earned first team All-America three times, but Laurinaitis was a two-time Big Ten defensive player of the year — Doss won once — and he also won the Butkus Award and the Nagurski Trophy. (Doss lost out on the Jim Thorpe Award to Kansas State’s Terence Newman).
That said, Doss was the best player on the 2002 national championship team. He was the defensive MVP of the 2003 Fiesta Bowl. His decision to return for his senior year in 2002 changed the trajectory of a program that had slumped in the final years of the Cooper era.
There is some Stark County bias at work here, but Doss just feels like a more important player in Ohio State and college football history. Laurinaitis was very productive player in Columbus, obviously, but he never seemed as impactful as, say, A.J. Hawk. I always thought he made a lot of tackles, but not a lot of plays.
That doesn’t mean Laurinaitis isn’t a solid candidate for the Hall. I just think Doss is a better one.
Around the diamonds
Speaking of Buckeyes, the Ohio State baseball team got a big boost from Stark County natives en route to the Big Ten tournament title and a berth in the NCAA tournament. Catcher Dillon Dingler (Jackson) was a second team all-conference selection after batting .291 with a .816 OPS (on-base plus slugging). Shortstop Zach Dezenzo (Marlington) was named to the Big Ten’s All-Freshman Team after batting .250 (.758 OPS). … Other Stark County natives on the Buckeye baseball team are RHP Jake Vance (Central Catholic), who went 3-2 with a 6.37 ERA and utility man Nate Romans (Canton native who went to Walsh Jesuit), who batted .192 with a .610 OPS. … Former Hoover standout Jenna Lilley, who played collegiately at Oregon, recently wrote a touching article on espnW about her former college teammate Geri Ann Glasco, who died in a multi-vehicle car accident in January. The story can be found on ESPN.com/espnw/.
Around high school recruiting
Speaking of Doss, his younger brother, A.J. Kirk, picked up an offer from Ohio State this week. Kirk will be a junior safety at Dublin Coffman this fall. He’s ranked as the No. 5 safety and the No. 174 overall player in the 2021 class by 247Sports. Kirk was one of two Ohioans to make MaxPreps Sophomore All-American team along with Orrville RB Marquael Parks, who led the Red Riders to the Division V state title. … Massillon junior WR Andrew Wilson Lamp picked up scholarship offers from Iowa State and Toledo this week. He already had offers from Akron and Kent State.
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On Twitter: @jscalzoREP