Interview with Adam Zaruba, Owner of AZ Elite Performance: We Talk Rugby, 7s Career, NFL, Advice to Young Players
BCRN: Hi Adam, we heard you’re in Victoria now and have started a business called AZ Elite Performance. Let’s start there and then work backwards to talk about rugby and football, the NFL kind. We saw a couple of announcements on your Instagram account @thezoobs. The first one, from September 5th 2022, I believe. Tell us a bit how things have been going since September. I should mention the website is www.coachzaruba.com.
AZ: Hey Mark, yes so I started this business in September as a way to work as a solo independent personal trainer, however I also wanted it to be a platform for me to reach developing youth rugby players in particular. The support & mentorship I had from some of my coaches through my development was instrumental in pushing me to achieve what I was able to and I feel thats where my impact will be most effective. As with any new business there is a lot to learn, but things are moving along and Im really excited about this camp well be running for the next 8 weeks. Byron (the head of the junior tide program) and I have been mulling this over for the past year and its finally happening which is really exciting.
BCRN: Also on your Instagram you mentioned you are working with the Junior Tide program, starting January 10th. What has the response been to the program, are there still openings?
AZ: The response to the program has been fantastic, both classes are loaded and we have one or two more spaces. Im ecstatic with the numbers we have right now and its shaping up to be a really great 8 weeks for the athletes involved.
BCRN: We took a look at your profile on the Canadian Olympic site olympic.ca/team-canada/adam-zaruba/ and came across the interesting mention of your grandfather telling you to try out rugby in grade 10. Can you talk a bit about your introduction to rugby in grade 10 and the transition to club rugby. What are some of the memories?
AZ: My grampa was responsible for all of it! I was a general sports player as a kid but didnt really start applying myself until I was around 16 years old. He always pushed me to try rugby & football as he was an avid rugby fan and former player, as well as a high school football coach. I transferred to Carson Graham Secondary in North Vancouver in grade 10 when I was 15 turning 16 to play football and rugby and it all took off from there. The Carson Graham rugby network was heavily entrenched at Capilano RFC, so I was naturally shifted along there and thats where Ive called home ever since!
BCRN: You first show up in our articles in 2009 at Carson Graham when you made the Commissoners XV at the high school championship. Then 2010 you were playing with the Canada U20 team, as second row along with Brett Beukeboom. In 2011, John Langley wrote up in his match report, “Replacing Cudmore today was big young Adam Zaruba who is on a football scholarship at Simon Fraser University” – that was Luke Cudmore by the way, not Jamie. So from second row to wing to 7s, take us through the transition in positions and your football time at SFU.
AZ: My time playing football at SFU was both incredible and heart breaking for me. I was there for 3 seasons, the first of which I was red shirted. To keep it short, there were a number of factors in and out of my control that led me to failing out of school after my first year which I take full responsibility for, and so my second year I was at SFU as a student only focusing on my education so I could sort that out and get back on the team. I had learned to be a better student and with a much higher GPA I made it back on the team for the following season to resume playing. The season that I wasnt playing, SFU had transitioned to the NCAA Div II, and some of the eligibility requirements for credits etc changed. So in my 3rd season when I was healthy, fit and ready to finally make an impact I was ruled ineligible for missing 1 credit and it took the wind out of my sails. I left SFU after that because I just felt burnt out and needed a change of scenery. 10ish months after that I was signed by the 7s team and moved out to Victoria and the rest is history.
As far as positions in rugby, I began my rugby career as a second row which I played for many years. I also had a brief stint as a tight head prop, my first game was against Japan in the world trophy with U20 Canada and it was a rough day at the office for me haha. I was always fast for a big guy, but when I started training at SFU and got into my early 20s things really took off for me there and I sort of hit my physical stride. My coach at the time at Capilano RFC, Tom Larisch, knew this and also knew Geraint John (the rugby 7s head coach) had his eye on me for the 7s team. Tom and I had a chat, and he made what was a very controversial decision at the time within the club to move me from second row to the wing so I could show my talents out in space for the 7s program. I basically had one rule, and that was to never kick the ball and just run hard, which I did! That risky move from Tom was really one of the pivotal moments in my rugby career/life that set everything in motion. I wasnt a natural winger but I was 260lbs, fast, and ready to make an impact and I was able to make a difference on the field.
BCRN: I think you are the only player to go from a national 7s team to NFL tryouts, at least the only Canadian player. What was it like going to your first NFL camp, what are some of the memories and the learnings you took from that?
AZ: My first NFL camp was basically just trying to keep my head above water. When I went for my tryout and sat with Joe Douglas he told me that they wanted to sign me but wanted to be sure I knew what I was getting myself into. These guys have taken 10s of thousands of reps at this job and itll be an uphill battle for me for a while. It was a lot of making mistakes and not making the same one twice, playing fast and hard and making plays whenever I could. I have some really fond memories of that experience, getting to meet some really incredible athletes and professionals that took immense pride in their sport. I was surrounded by some of the best players in the NFL and it was a really fantastic learning experience to see how they approached the game. Getting to play a pre season game at Lambeau Field and obviously getting to experience home games at the Linc was so special. I was really disappointed when I tore my hamstring in my 2nd camp with them because I really felt I had improved so much, training with them all spring that year to make an impact and unfortunately I never got to see the fruits of my labour. Regardless it was invaluable to me as a person & I learned so much about what I was capable of as an athlete.
BCRN: What were the highlights of your 7s career, of course the one handed catch off the kickoff for a try against Wales, is one that sticks in a lot of people’s memories. What were the most cherished memories for you over your 7s career.
AZ: Yes haha the catch continues to creep into my life a couple times a year which is always fun to re-live, it was a special moment for me for sure. Beating New Zealand for the 1st time in our history at the Tokyo 7s was a big one, qualifying for the Olympics was also another massive milestone for us. Sadly my torn ACL kept me out of the Olympics but it was really exciting nonetheless. My most fond memories however all belong to my time with the guys. Our team environment was really tight, and looking back on it now I just feel so extremely lucky to have been exposed to so many high level rugby players and humans and they helped me become who I am today, not just as an athlete but as a person too.
BCRN: What advice would you have for young players who are starting their rugby journey in high school, looking back through your journey, what were the key learning moments?
AZ: One of my biggest pieces of advice to any young athlete is to be coachable. Youll never, ever get to a point in your career where you will stop learning, asking questions and refining your craft. Feedback from your peers and coaches are at the forefront of that and being able to engage & receive that information is really important. Be humble, ask lots of questions, listen, and dont be afraid to make mistakes. Any good coach will care more about how you respond to mistakes and adversity than the actual mistakes themselves, and being coachable & adaptable is a part of that. Watch film, practice your skills for 10 minutes before & after practice, and take pride in the little things that over time add up to difference makers.
BCRN: All the best Adam on your new venture, if people want to contact you, they can go to your website at www.coachzaruba.com and also follow you on Instagram @thezoobs. Any final words, actually one final question did come to mind, how did the name Zoobs take hold?
AZ: If anyone wants to contact me, they can do so from my Instagram or my website. All of my information is there and Im happy to receive any questions whether its to engage in training or just simply to ask questions. Zoobs had many iterations before it, Zaruba, Tuba, Za-Tuba, Zoob-Toob, Zabooba to name a few. The boys settled with Zoobs/Zoobie which had a nice ring on the field I guess. I think its a sport thing, but we always leaned towards nicknames that ended in an ey sound for ease of speech on the field.
For a final word from me, thank you again to the entire rugby community for your support over the years. To my community of supporters in North Vancouver/Capilano RFC, Im forever grateful for what you did for me and Ill always do my best to make you proud! Although my playing days are now over, Im excited to look to the future and give back to this game that has given me so much.