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Tech Grad Up for Adventure Down Under

SOCORRO, N.M. May 17, 2010 -- In this season of graduations Nick Aldape has double reason to look forward to the future.

 Nick Aldape receives his diploma Saturday, May 15, from university president Dr. Daniel H. Lopez. Photo by Thomas Guengerich
 Nick Aldape tackles an opponent during a recent rugby match. Photo by James Chavez
 Nick Aldape protects the ball while being tackled by a host of opponents. Photo by James Chavez
 
 

Earning his bachelor's in civil engineering from New Mexico Tech is cause for celebration in its own right. Now another challenge awaits: an invitation from one of rugby football's all time legends to try his hand in the mecca of New Zealand.

After transferring to New Mexico Tech from Highlands University in Las Vegas, N.M., in 2008, Nick admits he had his share of struggles in adjusting to the rigorous coursework.

"After getting A’s throughout high school and being on the dean's list at Highlands I was shocked at getting C’s and even some D’s when I started at Tech," he said.

Aldape credits the school's academic counseling services and studying with his peers for getting him back on his path to success.

Dark good looks and a reserved bearing might fool a stranger, yet inside Nick Aldape's 6'3", 205-pound frame beats the passionate heart of an athlete who more than holds his own in the inevitable teasing that comes with being in a team.

Born in San Benito, Texas in 1986, Aldape started playing Pop Warner football at the age of eight and later wrestled and ran track at Piedra Vista High in Farmington, N.M. He played defensive back at Highlands after receiving both academic and football scholarships. 

One of Aldape’s professors at Highlands also coached the school’s sporadic rugby club. Recognizing Nick’s potential, Dr. Dick Greene encouraged him to study engineering at New Mexico Tech, where he knew there was also an established rugby club.

Aldape made the move and started playing rugby for the Pygmies in 2008. He became a fixture in the school's weight room and by his senior year had added enough rugby running and passing skills to his defensive capabilities to become a major force in the Tech attack.

Enter Graham Mourie, who came off a New Zealand dairy farm in the 1970s to captain the world-famous All Blacks national team and become a household name in the 100-plus nations where rugby is played.

Dick Greene met Graham Mourie during an extended stay in New Zealand in 1986 and the two have been friends ever since. While on a U.S. visit last year Mourie was persuaded to watch a Tech match at a tournament in Albuquerque. Nick made an impression on Mourie, a board member of the New Zealand Rugby Union.

“He looked pretty capable physically and for a new player had a good grasp of the game” he recalls in an e-mail. “I would imagine it will take him a while to settle in but that if he stays on next year as well he will learn quickly from the locals.”

Whether the engineering profession will wait that long is a matter of conjecture.

In the meantime Mourie has sent Nick his ticket to fly to New Zealand on May 20, where he will meet his new and vastly experienced teammates at the Coastal Rugby Club near New Plymouth. The learning curve will be steep, and as Mourie observes in the typical Kiwi understated way “he'll see a bit more rain than he is used to.”

A rare challenge awaits Nick Aldape in a new and far off land, yet he may be just the man for the job. “I always wanted to get into a foreign exchange program in college, but the money and schedule never worked out,” Aldape said.

Regarding his continuing rugby education, he said, "I know I've got a lot to learn. I plan to just go to practice, keep my mouth shut, learn as much as I can, and look for my chance to assert myself. Like my dad always told me, nothing worth having comes easy."

-- NMT --

By Joaquin Roibal and Dave Wheelock/New Mexico Tech