From Gridiron to Glory: The Rise of Derek Adams in Rugby Sevens

Imagine this: a man strolling through a park with his dog when he spots a familiar face dominating a pickup football game. The player, effortlessly outmaneuvering opponents, is Derek Adams. The observer? Chance Cooper, flyhalf for Kern County rugby in Southern California. Intrigued, Chance approaches Derek with a casual suggestion: “You’re pretty good … ever thought about playing rugby?”

Adams, a seasoned football player through high school, had never considered rugby. Despite not playing college ball, he was keeping fit and competitive in recreational games. The idea of breaking tackles on a rugby field intrigued him.

The transition, however, was anything but smooth. Adams broke his hand in his first 7s tournament. Undeterred, he returned to Kern County to master the basics of the sport. A natural competitor, Adams quickly realized he had potential in rugby.

“We went to Minnesota to play in 7s nationals, and I got to play against the Chicago Lions; this was the year they won the championships,” Adams recalled. “I scored three tries, and we almost beat them. I think we lost 21-19. That was a turning point for me. I thought, ‘Hey, this is the best team in the country, and I did okay.’”

Buoyed by his performance, Adams heard about the Premier Rugby Sevens (PR7s) combine and decided to take a chance. “I had made some promises to people I care about regarding how far I would take this,” Adams said. “I was confident in my ability to take on guys one-on-one, which is crucial in 7s. Coaches like Frankie Horne noticed me, and they gave me a shot.”

Indeed, the Loggerheads saw potential in Adams, despite his inexperience. Having only started playing rugby at 23, Adams was rapidly climbing the ranks.

In 2022, Adams began playing for the Loggerheads, often coming on as a late-game replacement and making decisive plays. In his first match, he scored a try. Against the Headliners in DC, he scored three tries in a narrow loss, turning heads. When he scored two tries in the Loggerheads’ championship final win over the Headliners in Austin, Adams ended the season tied for most tries, cementing his status as a rising star.

“I’d go on with the mindset of respecting my opponent but not too much,” Adams explained. “I know I can beat guys one-on-one. I’ve made enough sacrifices in relationships and jobs that I’m going to take the chance.”

Adams continued to impress, adding two more tries in 2023 and tying for the most tries in a PR7s career. His standout performances caught the eye of more teams, but he remained focused on continuous improvement.

“PR7s got me on the map, but I still needed to do more. I started playing with Belmont Shore, and we scrimmaged with other top teams. I took a guy on early and showed something. It was like Chicago or the first PR7s game; I was able to perform.”

Adams knew he had to prove himself physically. “I continued to do my due diligence in learning and working more,” Adams said. “PR7s success was nice, but I hadn’t arrived yet. I have completely recomposed my body. I weigh the same as I did when I started out, about 200, 205 pounds, but now I’m about 7% to 10% body fat. I used to go to the gym just to hang out with friends. Now, I’m there to work—it’s part of my profession.”

This professional mindset, instilled during his PR7s journey, also transformed his nutrition and overall approach to training.

From a complete rugby novice in 2020 to a league-leading 7s professional in 2022, Adams’ rise is nothing short of remarkable. It’s a testament to hard work, a willingness to learn, and seizing opportunities.

And one thing is certain about Derek Adams: he knows how to seize his opportunities.