Gary Hein’s rugby career began as a freshman in college at the University of California, Berkeley in 1984, while he was simultaneously playing football for the Bears. His natural athleticism translated seamlessly to the pitch, making him a force to be reckoned with at wing and fullback. Not only did he help Cal win three national championship titles in 1985, 1986 and 1988, but he also garnered numerous honors including being named a four-time Collegiate All-American from 1985-1988. He captained the 1988 USA Collegiate All-American Team against Canada U21 in Winnipeg, Canada, and was a two-time Woodley Award winner as the USA Collegiate Player of the Year in 1987 and 1988. Gary was named Cal’s Male Athlete of the Year in 1988, and most notably the only undergraduate collegiate player to represent the USA Eagles in 1987 and 1988.
“Does Gary earn a HOF bust due his stellar performance on week 1 of his rugby experience? No, but it clearly laid out the foundation of who he’d develop to be as a leader, a high-performance athlete, an outstanding student and family man. Gary has been on the coaching/mentoring side of the rugby ledger now for over 20 years. Coaching at the college level with his alma mater, with Lamorinda youth and beyond, Gary seems to have taken each of his rugby experiences as one of America’s great players and found a way to weave them into a unique and brilliant tale of greatness. Gary’s rugby resume and selflessness to give back to the game has been stellar,” said former Old Blues teammate, current St. Mary’s head coach and US Rugby Hall of Famer, Tim O’Brien.
On the football field, Hein was a four-year letterman for Cal from 1983 to 1986. During his tenure at Cal, he led the Bears as co-captain in 1986, led the team in interceptions in two different seasons, and was an All-Pacific 10 Conference honorable mention at cornerback in 1986.
Shortly after graduating from Cal, Gary would take his talents across the pond to Oxford University in England. While pursuing a graduate law degree, Hein played for the Oxford University team. He toured Spain, Portugal, France, Holland, Scotland, and England with the OURFC Dark Blues first team, earned two Varsity Blues and scored a combined three tries while playing in the Varsity Match for Oxford against Cambridge University in Twickenham in 1989 and 1990. A photograph taken from Twickenham’s new North Stand of Hein’s interception try in the 1990 Varsity Match was awarded the London Times sports photograph for that year. He was selected and played in the Major Stanley’s XV match for Oxford against an International XVs invitational team. Additionally, Hein competed for Oxford in track and field and for St. Anne’s College in rowing and basketball.
“I will forever be immensely grateful to Don James, Jack Clark, and Tim O’Brien for introducing me to the greatest sport on this earth. The unbridled passion and camaraderie carved into the ethos of rugby has always touched me deeply. I have enjoyed so much happiness and personal contentment from the many years of competition, respect and trust, traits which are firmly grounded in the sport we love. Playing on teams and competing in competitions across this country and the world has not only been incredibly satisfying, but also in many ways humbling. The incredible amount of love and laughter I have shared with so many people though the years reminds me of all the good rugby has instilled in me: respect, focus, teamwork, determination, passion, toughness, dedication, and loyalty. Most importantly, many of the great moments and friendships in my life, including my fantastic wife, Karin, and three great children, Sophie, Cayden and Brandon, have been gifts provided by my relationship with rugby,” said Hein.
Hein’s USA Rugby career was highly decorated, representing the Eagles in both 15s and 7s from 1986 to 1994. He played in 25 Eagles 15s tests during his career. He was a member of the 1987 inaugural Rugby World Cup team and started and finished all three Eagles RWC matches against Japan, Australia, and England. He appeared in the 1991 Rugby World Cup, once again starting, and finishing all three Eagles Rugby World Cup matches. He was the most capped Eagle wing of his generation until the late 1990s. For the Eagles 7s squad, Gary appeared in 49 games and earned a total of 29 caps. He was a member and the captain of the US Eagles team at the first-ever 7s Rugby World Cup in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1993 and played against New Zealand, Ireland, France, the Netherlands, and South Korea.
Hein transitioned from player to coach and served as an assistant backs coach at his alma mater, Cal. During his tenure as an assistant coach with the Bears, the Cal Rugby program seized a collegiate national championship title. Most recently, Gary served as team coach at every level of Lamorinda Rugby Football Club’s youth and high school rugby programs over the course of the past 14 years, and Gary’s teams racked up numerous honors.
“Gary’s contributions after his playing days were over further defines his dedication to the development of rugby in our country. Serving at the university, high school and youth levels as an administrator and coach, his impact at all levels is unmatched. Gary is an impeccable ambassador of the game of rugby and deserves the highest honor USA Rugby can offer,” said former US Eagles teammate, Bill Leversee.