Luke McCloskey used to look up to the likes of veteran Canadian national team players Phil Mack, John Moonlight, Sean Duke, Nathan Hirayama and Sean White.
Now the 23-year-old St. Michaels University School grad will suit up next to them Friday in the World Rugby Sevens Series stop in Wellington, New Zealand.
“This is a dream come true and a long time coming,” said McCloskey, who makes his debut at the top international level, along with 19-year-old Phil Berna of the UBC Thunderbirds.
“I’m really excited to show my stuff on the main stage.”
Both McCloskey and Berna are products of the Maple Leaf development team.
So is Mike Fuailefau, who graduated with McCloskey at SMUS, and who has been a Canada senior team regular for two years. Fuailefau, however, is injured and did not make the trip Down Under.
“Mike and I began playing sports together at SMUS at age 13,” said McCloskey, who also starred in soccer and basketball for the Blue Jags.
“Rugby is the main sport at SMUS and it’s ingrained in you.”
That was followed by five years with the University of Victoria, tracking the cleat prints of Vikes alumni such as Mack, Duke, Hirayama and Lucas Hammond who came ahead of him.
“That was an unbelievable experience, winning three CIS national sevens championships,” said McCloskey, who earned his bachelor of commerce degree.
McCloskey and Fuailefau then followed the well-trod club path from SMUS to the Castaway Wanderers.
“I play wing in XVs, but sevens is more my game,” said McCloskey.
“I’m quick and I use my pace. My other big attribute is fitness. I like to wear the opposition down with my pace and expose them that way.”
Everything this year for the Langford-based Canadian sevens team is pointed to the last-chance qualifier for Rio, through which the 12th and final berth into the 2016 Summer Olympics will be decided June 18-19 in Monaco.
McCloskey knows he is being groomed more for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic cycle, but who knows what can happen earlier?
“When you get here, you want to stick here,” said McCloskey, of every player’s goal in any sport when they take the step to the next level.
“But I can’t look too far ahead. I will just focus on the next game in front of me. I want to show everyone I deserve to be here and that this is not a fluke.”
Named to the Canadian roster for Wellington are the rookies McCloskey and Berna, along with veterans Mack, Duke, Hirayama, Hammond, Moonlight, White, Admir Cejvanovic, Harry Jones, Matt Mullins, Adam Zaruba and Duncan’s Pat Kay.
Canada opens pool play against Kenya on Friday and continues with games against Australia and Portugal.
The Canadians, 13th in the World Series standings after the first two events in Dubai and Cape Town, will head across the Tasman to the Sydney Sevens next week.
“It’s hard not to associate the year 2016 with the Olympic Games, and our intention is to be the best prepared we can be for the qualifier in June,” stated Victoria-based Canadian head coach Liam Middleton.
“But right now, our only focus is on the Wellington tournament, and our first pool game. After that, we will look at the next pool game.”