From attending his father’s games, to becoming the waterboy, to joining the scrum itself, senior Louie Henson has always been surrounded by rugby.
Raised by a former Western rugby player, Henson followed in his father’s footsteps and is now a standout player for the team his dad once played for.
Like his father, Henson is team captain of the Western Men’s Rugby Club and plays the forward position.
Henson began his rugby career in the 10th grade and is currently in his fifth year as a Western rugby player.
During his freshman year, the team advanced to the Final Four of the USA Rugby College National Championships. Western advanced to the Elite Eight in Henson’s junior year.
Being at nationals was surreal, Henson said. He considers it his greatest rugby accomplishment at Western. Both times, the team’s games were broadcast live on YouTube to a significant audience.
In rugby, there are two kinds of positions: forward and back. Henson plays the position of tight head prop, which leads the pack of forwards.
“When he’s on the field, he’s a dominant force. He’s super savvy and super athletic. He knows rugby extremely well.”
Henson described his position as, “just being a big body in there to do all the dirty work and clear the way for the little guys to do all the flashy stuff.”
Perhaps Henson is being modest. Rugby Club President Tripp Marotto said on the field, Henson is “poetry in motion.”
Junior rugby player Augie Beimborn described him as intense, aggressive and poised.
“When he’s on the field, he’s a dominant force,” Beimborn said. “He’s super savvy and super athletic. He knows rugby extremely well.”
Where it Began
Originally, Henson planned on attending St. Mary’s College in California but immediately switched course when he heard who was coaching at Western: Paul Horne.
Horne played rugby with Henson’s father at Western and the two still have a close bond.
“As long as I’ve been a kid, I’ve always watched teams coached by Paul Horne and seen how successful they’ve been and how well he’s done as a coach,” Henson said.
Previously, Horne was coaching at the University of British Columbia and trying to recruit Henson. He then took a coaching spot at Western and quickly called Henson’s dad to tell him about the change.
“So I said, ‘I don’t want to put him on the spot, but if he wants to come to Western and play rugby with me, tell him to give me a call in a couple days,’” Horne said. “[Louie] called me right back and said ‘yep, that’s where I want to go.’”
With a group of Western rugby alumni, Horne and Henson’s father helped start a rugby team called the “Huna Hoggs.”
About the time he was in middle school, Henson was brought along with Horne’s Chuckanut rugby team when they played in Ireland. That was Henson’s first introduction to rugby at a higher level.
“I think that all had a lot to do with determining who he was as a player,” Horne said.
By high school, Henson was on the team and played his first game with the Huna Hoggs, Horne said.
Having played closely with Henson’s father and now coaching Henson, Horne sees similarities between the two. Henson’s father, Jerry Henson, was an equally aggressive player. He was known widely as “the dump-truck” and often played the same position Louie Henson does now.
“Louie is a very similar kind of player to his dad,” Horne said. “He goes forward and if you get in his way, he’ll punish you.”
As team captain and team president, Henson’s father shared a passion for leading with his son. Horne said he was a leader both on and off the field, the kind of guy who takes charge of a team.
“A bit of a legacy,” Henson said.
Leading the Team
As team captain, Henson has many responsibilities.
In rugby, no one is allowed to talk to the referees except the captain.
“You want to make sure that you have selected the right kind of person to be able to handle any kind of adversity in the game or calls going the wrong way,” Horne said. “The captain must maintain credibility with the referee and make sure the other players are under control.”
On the field, Henson is in charge of making decisions. There are no timeouts in rugby and coaches can’t come out on the field to make changes. It’s all in the hands of the captain.
The captain’s duties do not end when the whistle blows, Horne said. Henson is responsible for welcoming and orienting the opposing teams, as well as welcoming and thanking the referees.
“Louie leads by example. One of his characteristics is that he’s able to demand quite a bit from his teammates and anything he demands, he can deliver,” Horne said. “His on-field performance is never questioned.”
Beimborn stressed Henson’s commitment to the team, saying he was always on tme to games and practices.
“He was the first person who I identified right away as the leader,” Beimborn said. Henson spoke fondly of his teammates.
“[My favorite part is] the camaraderie, the brotherhood,” Henson said. “You build a really tight bond, not only with the guys you play with but the guys you play against.”
Horne said when the coaches were looking at Western’s team last season, they knew there was one player they couldn’t replace: Henson.
“We just all agreed that he’s so important to the team that it would be devastating to lose him,” Horne said. “And we did.”
Last year during a preseason game at Oregon State University, Henson tore his anterior cruciate ligament. He underwent surgery, but the recovery put him out for the whole year.
Henson was cleared to play as of Friday, Nov. 25. His first game back will be Saturday, Jan. 21 in Vancouver, BC against the University of British Columbia U-20’s.
“I expect some rage to be unleashed on the field. I feel bad for who we’re playing against,” Marotto said. “He is hungry and he’s been working. I’m excited.”
Horne said Henson will be putting his own stamp on the game. “We’re looking forward to a very successful season with Louie leading the way as captain.”