Wishful thinking is often a precarious way to plan for the future — but not for George Anthony Desmond.
Spending the beginning of 2018 away from his final semester at Queen’s to be in Brazil, it’s clear he’s chasing a dream. And if his past few weeks are any indication, he seems well on his way.
After compiling game footage of his three years as a player within the men’s rugby program, Desmond finds himself in his native country of Brazil — his highlight reel prompting the country’s national team to offer him a two week trial in their São José Dos Campos training centre.
Desmond, who moved to Canada from Brazil at age three, couldn’t help but think of how unconventional his career path has been, expressed during a phone call with The Journal. The idea of playing rugby upon arriving at Queen’s in the fall of 2013 wasn’t even on his periphery.
“[M]y knowledge of sports was kind of based off this sort of Brazilian sport conscious,” Desmond said. “I played soccer and volleyball in high school … I idolized Brazilian soccer stars growing up.”
Subsequent to finishing his first year at the University, a friend encouraged Desmond to try out for the rugby team. Although he knew little about the sport at first, shortly thereafter it became something he couldn’t get enough of.
“I loved it,” Desmond said of when he first stepped on the pitch. “I really felt in my element playing rugby. I picked up pretty quickly [but], you know, I’d make some really silly mistakes.”
While the Gaels’ varsity team has won five of the last six OUA championships — with a handful of its players featuring in Canada’s national team — Desmond’s late introduction to rugby didn’t deter his drive to compete with quality talent. Being a part of the program for him — albeit at the lowest of seven teams in the men’s rugby club system — was looked at as an invaluable learning opportunity rather than an uphill climb.
“I mean, luckily, Queen’s rugby program is bar-none one of the top in the country, so I had the absolute privilege of learning from great players and coaches,” Desmond said. He added that as he learned more about the sport, he was able to work his way up.
This past season, Desmond featured on the program’s second team, wherein he found his development as a player grew considerably.
“I think I’ve always kind of had a drive that I want to test myself against the best I can [and] push myself into being the best that I can in order to really challenge myself.”
His thoughts about competing at the national level, however, didn’t exclusively come from his growth on the pitch. Desmond first considered a path to Brazil’s national team after they posted a series of YouTube videos they hoped would promote the sport locally.
“[A]nd that’s where the idea took form … The idea of, ‘Well, I’m Brazilian … If I can get myself to a good enough level, that could very well be a possibility,’” he said.
In November, Desmond began to put his highlight reel together. The video amassed over 2,000 views in two days — and that was all Desmond needed to take his chance.
He called the offices of the Brazilian national team in Sãu Paolo and touched base with their technical superintendent. He was told to pass along his game film.
“They said they would send [the video] to the head coach, and if he liked what he saw, they would bring me up for a trial,” he said.
The week between his sending of the highlight tape and the team contacting him was, Desmond admitted, “probably the most anxiety inducing week of my life.”
He wondered if he was too direct — questioning whether it was appropriate to send a national team a highlight reel — but come early December, it was clear why he gave thought to the idea in the first place.
“I got an email from them saying they wanted to set up a trial for me. And from then it was, like, ‘O.K., this is happening.’”
Desmond trained in Kingston, working with physical trainers at the ARC to ensure he’d be in the best shape possible. The Brazilian staff said his two week trial could spur an opportunity to feature with the national team consistently.
Albeit focused and staying in the moment, upon stepping off the plane in Sãu Paulo, Desmond was overcome with emotion.
“It really made things real for me, it was very emotional,” Desmond said. “I hadn’t been back in nine years. I was emotional, excited, anxious.”
More than anything, Desmond said he felt humbled and fortunate.
“I’m thinking, ‘Let’s go. Let’s get ready, let’s focus,’” Desmond said of how he’s approaching his opportunity. “This is a national team — it’s a different level, and so I really needed to treat it as such.”
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