Captain Tony Njago leads his team relationally on and off the pitch
Sports | Tim Ness and Matt Johnson for The Clarion
Daystar's rugby team practicing to further their undefeated season. | Photo for The Clarion courtesy of Matt Johnson
The Daystar University rugby team has been awaiting this season. The men are hopeful and looking ahead to the playoffs, where if they fare well, they could have a shot at the Kenya Cup.
After Daystar University moved to the Athi River campus in 1992, it soon began to draw in students who had the desire to play rugby. The team officially started in 1996 and became a part of the Kenyan league.
But before Daystar’s recent success, the team faced significant growing pains. Daystar rugby engages with a different set of challenges than U.S. universities, which are on a clear divisional set up. Each U.S. division has specific guidelines that must be followed regarding the amount of scholarships given to players. Division I athletes are allowed to receive full scholarships, while Division III athletes will not receive an athletic scholarship for their sport.
Kenyan sporting leagues are structured differently. There is no separation between university and professional teams and therefore, Daystar competes against both collegiate and professional athletes in the nationwide league. Often these other universities are like professionals because they receive money for playing rugby at their school.
The only thing that Daystar can sell to the players is that their team has a true passion for the game and will offer positive relationships on and off the pitch. This has given the university a difficult time with bringing in rugby players, when they know they could be paid elsewhere.
Nonetheless, Daystar has found quality players to represent the rugby team. Tony Njago, who was voted team captain at the beginning of the year by his teammates, has a great blend of leadership on and off the pitch.
His emphasis on relationships is what sets him above other leader, and his ability to develop those relationships has brought this team together. “If I can talk to that guy as a friend… then I can have a good time on the pitch,” Njago said.
He parallels his leadership on a team to a professor’s leadership in a classroom, believing that if a student goes into a class with a professor who is very aggressive and highly critical, his or her motivation to excel in the class will wither away. Rather, if the professor shows that he or she cares about the student in the classroom, the student will have a greater desire to excel.
Although the athletes aren’t compensated for their efforts by the university, Njago and other teammates make weekly contributions to help fellow teammates in financial trouble. Njago’s efforts as a leader have encouraged the players to look past the idea of not getting paid and focus on love for the game and each other.
And his efforts have proven to be successful.
Daystar is currently first in the Nairobi Region and is undefeated in regular season play. The season has been a highlight for many of the players’ rugby careers.
“We have brought Daystar rugby to a whole new level,” Njago said.
Njago and teammates are looking to win out through the rest of the season, win the playoffs and make it to the highly-anticipated Kenya Cup.
Njago’s perfect ending to this season would be holding a trophy or medal over his head, but for now Njago is living and loving every moment, uniting the team on and off the pitch.