Ever since Donavan Kandjii set foot on a rugby field as a 10-year-old in Namibia, Africa, he said he felt the joy of the game surge through his body. Now the standout rugby player is looking to help the New Mexico Highlands Vatos Rugby Club win more national championships.
“From the beginning, I loved the game of rugby,” Kandjii said. “Rugby creeps into your heart and stays there. What stood out for me was its physicality and the positive passion players portrayed on the field. There’s a solidarity with my teammates in rugby, and discipline on the field that transfers to life. No matter how intense a rugby game is, there’s respect among the competitors.”
The first time Kandjii was recruited to play rugby was when he was a schoolboy in Windhoek, the capital city of Namibia,
“My principal spotted me playing soccer and running sprints in track and said I had no choice but to join the rugby team,” Kandjii said.
As his rugby experience grew, Kandjii graduated to the semi-professional level after high school, playing for teams in Namibia and neighboring South Africa.
In 2015, he was spotted again but this time by an American from New Mexico Highlands University.
“I was recruited to come to Highlands for my college education and to play rugby by Dick Greene, someone who I hold in high regard as a mentor and father figure,” said Kandjii, who was raised by his mother.
Greene is a Highlands biology and engineering professor who established the Vatos Rugby Club and coached it for 25 years, culminating with a National Small College Rugby Organization (NSCRO) Sevens Championship in 2015. Sevens denotes the number of players on the field.
Kandjii enrolled at Highlands fall semester 2017.
“At Highlands, I’m very blessed and humbled to play rugby with a group of highly committed, honorable, and athletic individuals. They welcomed me and helped make my transition to college life and the U.S. pleasant. There’s a brotherhood in rugby and over the years, I’ve found that the friendships formed are priceless,” Kandjii said.
Brandon Rey, a former Vatos player and 2015 All-American, took the helm as the Vatos head coach for the 2017-2018 academic year. Rey is a Highlands alumnus and graduate student in human performance and sport.
Rey said Kandjii plays the flyhalf position, which the coach compares to the quarterback in football.
“Donavan is a very talented rugby player with a high level of overall game awareness,” Rey said. “He’s extremely explosive in his speed and is aggressive on defense. He’s a natural leader with a positive attitude. I see a bright future for Donavan at Highlands as both a student and Vatos athlete. His intelligence and commitment to academics and athletics are phenomenal.”
High academic achievement is a longtime hallmark of the Vatos.
More praise for Kandjii came from Bill Hayward, a Highlands exercise and sports science professor who is the faculty adviser for the Vatos.
“Donavan is a very responsible and reliable young man who brings a maturity beyond his years to Highlands,” Hayward said. “He’s well respected by his Vatos teammates.”
Kandjii said he aims to help the Vatos win more national championships at the sevens competition level, which the club won back-to-back in 2015 and 2016.
“I also want to help my team add national championship accolades in 15s, the standard rugby format with 15 players,”Kandjii said.
At Highlands, Kandjii majors in geology.
‘With geology, I saw it fitting to combine my love of nature with the fact that Namibia is rich in raw minerals. My professional goal is to become a petroleum geologist, knowledge that can benefit my country,” Kandjii said.
Kandjii said he’s impressed with the hands-on approach to learning his professors at Highlands use.
“This helps me grasp information much easier. Also, the small number 0f students in the classroom means we are held accountable for our learning and get the individual attention we need to succeed,” Kandjii said.
He said it’s the same kind of accountability that is a way of life in rugby.