Vatos Rugby Player Nominated for Life of Significance Award

Photo of Justin Stallworth during rugby game

Justin Stallworth, center with the ball, plays for the Highlands Vatos Rugby club, which is headed back to the national championships.
Courtesy Photo

Las Vegas, New Mexico ­– New Mexico Highlands University graduate Justin Stallworth has been nominated for a Life of Significance Award for his volunteer service.

Penn Mutual Life Insurance Company named Stallworth as a finalist for the national award, writing that he “exemplifies great commitment to each and every one of his purposes in life.”

Stallworth, who graduated with a master’s degree in guidance and counseling from Highlands  in May 2019, will play with the Highlands Vatos Rugby club in its bid for another national title June 1-3 in Philadelphia.

Stallworth volunteers as a mentor at Corner Stone Church every Monday evening for a Bible study with youth from several local churches. They also get active, playing games like dodgeball and capture the flag.

“I like doing the volunteer work because I can serve as a positive role model for middle and high school students,” Stallworth said. “I want to teach them to remain true to themselves and never let someone dictate how they should behave.”

Stallworth said he tells the young students often that if you have God on your side, there’s nothing you can’t do.

“This philosophy is based firmly on my favorite scripture, Philippians 4:13, which states, ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,’” Stallworth said.

Stallworth, who earned his bachelor’s degree in psychology from Highlands in May 2016, said he first played rugby in his senior year at the university. He plays forward, with his key responsibilities being tackling and maintaining possession of the ball.

“I love the sport of rugby. I enjoy scoring tries, which are the same as touchdowns in football.   It’s thrilling. When you execute plays on the rugby pitch that allow a teammate to score, it’s very rewarding,” Stallworth said. “For me, the brotherhood I have with my teammates is what I like most about playing rugby for Highlands. After a disappointing showing at nationals last year, it’s humbling to have another chance to go to Philadelphia and represent what Vatos Rugby is all about.”

The Vatos are headed back to the National Small College Rugby Organization (NSCRO) Sevens Championship in Philadelphia for the fifth consecutive year. The team has 2015 and 2016 championships under their belts. Sevens denotes the number of players on the field for each team.

Brandon Rey, a former Vatos player and 2015 and 2016 All-American, is the current coach. Rey said Stallworth is a very intelligent man with a bright future.

“Justin’s dedication and commitment to the game of rugby and the team is outstanding,” Rey said. “He’ll come from a double shift at work ready to practice at 100 percent. Justin is well respected by his teammates, who look up to him.”

Off the rugby pitch, Stallworth works as a psychiatric technician at the New Mexico Behavioral Health Institute in Las Vegas.

“The best part of my work is hearing success stories about clients that leave the hospital,” Stallworth said. “The most important thing I learned from my professors at Highlands is how to be nonjudgmental with clients and treat them with respect and dignity.”

Stallworth is in the process of applying to Ph.D. programs in clinical counseling.

“My goal is to be a licensed clinical counselor and you need a doctorate for that. I want to have a private practice that’s geared toward lending a listening ear to anyone who needs counseling,” Stallworth said.