Payton Telea Ilalio ’20 Wins the 2019–20 Rudy Scholz Award for Top Men’s Rugby Player

by Linda Lenhoff, College Communications | June 24, 2020 | June 24, 2020

Ask anyone about 2020 SMC graduate Payton Telea Ilalio’s importance to the SMC men’s rugby team, and you’ll hear praise about his teamwork and true Lasallian spirit—not to mention compliments about the grad’s “superb hands.” Last month, Ilalio was unanimously named the 2019–2020 Rudy Scholz Award winner as the top men’s collegiate rugby player in the United States. Ilalio is the first prop and first tight five forward to win the award.

Ilalio’s coach commends the student’s devotion to the rugby team and the College at large. “Payton has been an extraordinary contributor to the fabric of the SMC community,” said men’s rugby coach Timothy O’Brien. “He inspires calm and deliberation in those around him with very few words. He has a strong moral code and, again, conveys this on the field and off, almost by osmosis. Easily missed at first but his steadiness and quiet strength is the kind of quality that grounds teammates and unifies a team. His intent to attend graduate school at SMC is a testament to his thirst for knowledge and love of learning inspired by the Lasallian principles he has firmly embraced in Moraga.”

The 21-year-old graduate of S.F.’s Archbishop Riordan High credits other Saint Mary’s players for teaching him about the sport—and how to be a player. “There were a lot of players when I first started out, but the main players were Henry Hall [’17], Ethan Waller [’18], and Kevin O’Connor [’17]. They were my older brothers in the pack, so they looked after me and told me right from wrong and what I needed to do. I just listened. Whatever they told me, I did, and it led to nothing but the best for me,” Ilalio told Alex Goff of the Goff Report.

Though he grew up not far away in Hunters Point, Ilalio hadn’t originally thought of attending Saint Mary’s, but was immediately attracted by SMC’s mission and the team’s dedication to hard work. “It’s just a bunch of under-the-radar kids going to a small school [doing] blue-collar work,” Ilalio said of his team. “The culture and tradition of Saint Mary’s is working hard, keeping your head low, staying humble, and trying to be successful,” he told Goff.

Ilalio, who has been a Sodexo food worker all four years, recognizes that the season—cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic—was a disappointment, but he said the team was ready for serious competition. “As a team, I think we were just finding our groove, just finding our rhythm. There were a lot of major players coming off of injuries. That Navy game really solidified how our season would have ended. And it ended on a strong note. We were ready and had a common goal.”

Chosen from fan and team voting across the country, which pared the nominees down to five, Ilalio came out the unanimous winner of the Rudy Scholz Award after consideration from the Rudy Scholz Award Panel, which included Ohio State University Head Coach Tom Rooney, University of Arizona Head Coach Sean Duffy, US Naval Academy Head Coach and former All American Head Coach Gavin Hickie, Dartmouth Head Coach and current All American Head Coach James Willocks, former Central Washington Head Coach Tony Pacheco, journalist Austin Willis, and Goff Rugby Report Editor and Scholz Award coordinator Alex Goff.

Ilalio will be returning to SMC to get a master’s degree and play for a fifth year. After that, in true Lasallian spirit, he hopes to become a firefighter. We can’t think of a more Lasallian career for our forward and wish him all the best.