With Potential Abound, Dabulas Starts His Eagles Journey
By Evan Lappen
“I remember there was the Churchill Cup in Red Bull Arena [between USA and France], and I was the ball boy for that. I must have been ten years old. I was like, ‘Wow, these guys are so big, I could never do that.’ Here I am now. And they are still big.”
Fast forward 11 years, Mike Dabulas is on the USA Eagles roster and is hopeful he will earn his first international test cap this Saturday against Ireland. Coming from humble beginnings in Westfield, New Jersey, the man known as “Chicken” is just the player the USA can use on the roster. A dynamic playmaker who can play at multiple positions which is getting better every day.
“It’s fantastic that [Dabulas] covers you in a couple of positions,” USA head coach Gary Gold said. “He can play flyhalf and fullback as well, and I’m sure he can fit into one or two more positions. He is an elusive runner, a good broken-field runner as well.
“He’s got a bit of X-factor about him. Every successful team has a couple of X-factors. [Dabulas] is really good on the counterattack, and he talks well. A good communicator from the back, and that’s a big asset for a player… His utility aspect fits in perfectly with a touring team.”
Chicken started playing flag rugby when he was six and graduated to club rugby with the Union County Mudturtles soon after. He would go on to become a four-year starter at flyhalf with Penn State and earn All-American honors in 2018 and 2019.
In the later stages of college, Dabulas went to the Chula Vista USA Development Camp and played on the All-American squad in 2019 that beat the All-Canadian University All-Stars. His play at college and in the development and all-star camps kept him on the USA radar.
He wasn’t just in the USA’s sights as the MLR had noticed too. Old Glory head coach Andrew Douglas scouted Dabulas personally and met with his coaches to learn more about him and his game. Douglas signed Chicken to play for DC, and although his playing time was limited in 2020 due to the pandemic, Dabulas’ role in 2021 has expanded tenfold this season.
“He’s come here and done really well,” Douglas explained. “He’s developed pretty quickly and probably made the [USA] team earlier than I thought he would, which is a credit to Chicken. He’s versatile, and he can play 15, 14, and 10. He’s still learning the game in terms of how to manage it but he’s certainly a very natural rugby player. He’s quick and strong, a learner with the right skill set… They are obviously looking towards the World Cup, so it makes sense to me that you carry a guy as versatile as Chicken is. And he’s got a big left foot which is another bonus.”
With Old Glory this season, Dabulas has scored two tries, has 65 carries for 671 meters (third on the team), has four line breaks, and is third on the team with 642 kick meters. This is all while not having a consistent position in the backline playing everywhere from flyhalf to fullback to wing.
Dabulas attributes his development to the wealth of coaching he’s had. “I’ve had a couple of coaches at Penn State that all been pretty amazing. [Chris] Amoratis to start, then the stormin’ Mormon Blake Burdette, James Willocks, and then finished it off with Justin Hundley. They each gave me a little something along the way and really helped me out. They pointed me to the path to the MLR, and once I got here, it’s been to the moon. I’ve learned so much so quickly. The first year got cut a little short but this year definitely helped me out.”
Chicken’s standout year got the attention of the USA scouts, and Coach Gold offered him a spot on the July international test roster.
“I found out from an email,” Dabulas said. “It was our off day, and I rolled out of bed around seven o’clock. I saw the email. At first, I thought I didn’t make it. I skipped the first paragraph and then read back it was congratulations. I was like, ‘Oh, Sweet.’”
Since then, it’s been about preparing for the future and being a sponge in the international environment.
“I’m going to have a lot to learn,” Chicken said. “I’m going to have to buckle down and learn pretty quick where I’m running. We are not going to have much time once we get out there so it better to do a lot of homework now and the rest will come.”
Dabulas is cherishing every moment of the UK trip but knows this is just the beginning. The Eagles wouldn’t have selected him if they didn’t see his potential on the field.
“If I get the opportunity to put on the jersey, it will be something I’ve wanted to do since I was a kid,” Chicken concluded. “It’s something I’ve watched since I as far as I can remember. Watching the USA team, watching national teams play against each other. Growing up and being able to do that and don that jersey with the American flag on my chest, that will be pretty something special.”