U.S. Men’s National Team experience helps Robert Virgil keep football dreams alive
A heavy hamstring could have led to a heavy heart, but that’s not the way Robert Virgil attacks the daily routine of life.
The football window for some oftentimes closes the second they’re out of eligibility in college. But for Virgil, who graduated from the University of Sioux Falls, S.D., in 2013, he always left things open just a crack.
Virgil, 24, had a tryout with the BC Lions of the Canadian Football League, but a tweaked hammy left things up in the air as far as his future went.
“It was tough, mainly because of my injury,” he said. “When I was out there, I wasn’t able to perform to my full ability because my hamstring was heavy. Me knowing what I needed to do and not giving up and having a good drive was tough. But it was about staying positive because I know I can play. When I got that opportunity, it was a blessing.”
That opportunity came thanks to U.S. Men’s National Team head coach Dan Hawkins and the International Federation of American Football World Championship.
Working as a student loans consultant for Wells Fargo in Sioux Falls, the 6-foot-2, 180-pound defensive back didn’t bat an eye when it came to competing against the best in the world in Canton from July 9-18.
“I prepared for a CFL tryout, and (the injury) kind of slowed my process down,” Virgil said. “I got the opportunity to play again, my hamstring was healthy, and it was kind of like the perfect time for me to hit the field and be a part of that.
“There was a huge drive to return to the game. For me, to be blessed to represent the country was just crazy. I knew I had to get right. Practice was my game set to establish myself and get right with some of my teammates that went to big Division I schools. I knew I could play with them and prove it.”
And rightfully so, as he accounted for 20½ tackles – three for loss – an interception, three pass breakups and a blocked punt.
While numbers like those might surprise some who think about Virgil being out of the game for so long, they didn’t surprise the defensive back in the least bit.
In fact, he thought he could do much better.
“I honestly wasn’t surprised,” he said. “I was kind of upset. When you sit back as defensive player and look back, you think, ‘Man, I could have made some plays.’ There were plays that I felt like I left out there, but I feel I did well.”
Virgil certainly did, and the 59-12 win over Japan in the gold medal game proved it as the United States outscored its opponents by an average of 44½ points during the four-game stretch.
It also brought Virgil close to players he had never met before the three-week experience.
“When you’re in meetings together and long practices all day – we did a team moving outing – you just become close,” he said. “It becomes a brotherhood you may not have had. We all became close. At the same time, it was tough to say goodbye.”
He’ll continue to look at pro camps as a chance to prove himself, but if that doesn’t work out, Virgil is already hinting – rather strongly – at the chance to represent the United States again in 2019.
“I will keep this football dream alive,” he said. “If there’s anything that comes whether it’s next spring or tryouts at camps, I’m definitely ready to go for it.
“Winning the gold medal was a great experience. If that opportunity comes again, I’ll definitely play, unless I’m playing somewhere else as a pro.”