How ACL injury led Homeboyz’ Simon Odongo into coaching

Step into one of Homeboyz RFC’s games, and on its technical bench, you will notice him. He stands out due to his sunglasses, drawstring bag on his back and in most cases, he is in a warm-up vest. His name is Simon Odongo, a coach at Homeboyz Rugby.

The World Rugby Level 1 Coach and Match Official certificate holder packs a decent rugby journey story.

To date, his rugby journey life stands at over 21years, all of them being active involvement; from his playing days to currently coaching, and also his involvement with the Kings Rugby Development Academy (KRDA).

In a tete-a-tete interview with The Scrummage, Odongo was keen to reveal that to arrive at where he currently stands, he had to exercise a huge chunk of patience, discipline and hard work. He is one is the very few, who believes good things come to those who wait.

Kilimani Primary School sets the scene of where his rugby journey began (around 1999). He was a standard six pupil then.

“I read an advert that Kenya Rugby Union (KRU) were to commence a mini-rugby program and I decided to join. It was one of its kind. Eric Situma, Fred Ollows and Mwalimu (Max) Muniafu spearheaded the program. We were five kids during the session. I remember we were with the Muniafu kids. The Academy grew on from there and it became bigger,” he said.

Coach Simon Odongo leads Homeboyz in a warm up session. Photo Courtesy/Homeboyz Rugby

By the time he was joining Barding High School for his secondary school education in 2003, Odongo was bubbling with experience. The development program had moulded a fine young ‘rugby warrior’ in him. That explains why he made it into the school’s first team, in just a day’s training.

“It was easy to make it to the first team since there was a gap between my skill level and most of my fellow school team players. Rugby was still at its budding stages in my school then, and hence not so many players had a comprehensive understanding of the game like me,” he said.

Although he never won a major trophy in his high school rugby life, Odongo said it was a period that made fond memories which quenched his thirst for an accolade.

“The furthest we went was a semifinal loss to Maseno, in Nyanza region. We never won a trophy but that never weighed us down.”

“My philosophy, as was of the schools’, was not driven by trophies but the memories created. Any trophy becomes sweeter when you struggle to get it. I don’t believe in going the Man City way (buying the best players in the country and trying to win.) I think when you work hard, you build the relationship, you see the struggle in the players you see how hard everyone wants it. It makes it sweeter,” he said.

While at Barding High School Odongo used to train at Ulinzi Rugby Football Club a side which his sister was a “huge fan”.

By the time he completed high school,  Ulinzi RFC had been disbanded, he first joined Mwamba for two years before taking a trek to Jamhuri to join Homeboyz in 2009. His decision to join the Deejayz, he says, was sold to him by former Nakuru’s Head Coach, the late Eric Situma.

“After Ulinzi was disbanded, I could not join any of the Ngong Road clubs. Mwamba was my only option. The Ngong road clubs centred their play on packs rather than the backs. I wasn’t a fan of this tactical approach since I wanted to have the ball more as a back.

“Eric Situma later approached me and convinced me to join Homeboyz,” he said.

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In 2011, just two years after joining the Deejayz, he injured his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), which saw him sidelined for two years.

“The injury came at a time when I felt I was settling at the club and picking the form. It was hard to watch matches from the sidelines, as I felt those on the pitch were not doing it right and that I would have done better. To keep my mind off the field, I did a lot of internships. It was one of my lowest moment at Homeboyz,” he narrated.

However, ironically enough, it was this setback that gave light to his coaching career. How?

“After the two gruelling years, I returned in a game against Strathmore. The match was so fast and a lot had changed. So after some personal assessment, I talked to Paul Murunga and he asked me to help in coaching new players from high school. My role was a skills coach, and that is how got into coaching,” he revealed.

The appointment of the then Homeboyz head coach of Paul Murunga to lead Kenya 7s in 2018, dawned a new era in Odongo’s career. The Head Coach void left by Murunga, was his to fill.

Murunga who had led Homeboyz to a Kenya Cup semifinals finish, where they had topped the standings the previous season, had indeed left a spot where only the courageous would dare stand to fill.

Although Homeboyz failed to make it to the playoffs spot, having finished eighth during his season in charge, Odongo said, the experience was timely.

“It was an interesting period. The Club threw me in the deep end, to areas I had never been before. It was actually an interesting experience and it was a good period for me to take notes and learn. Am glad life chose me to experience as it is something no one can take it away from me. That for me was a plus,” he said.

For the 2019/20, Homeboyz settled for South African Jason Hector to take charge of the team with Odongo as his assistant. The experience, Odongo said, widened his scope of the game.

“I have enjoyed working with both coaches. (Murunga and Hector). I have taken a lot of learnings from both, their leadership, communication, how they handle big and tricky matches. I try to learn but also ensuring I remain unique,” he said.

The pair led Homeboyz to playoffs finish in the cancelled 2019/20 Kenya Cup campaign, finishing third.

Their impressive runs against ‘big boys’ Kabras and KCB has wafted the trophy smell in their camp and Odongo believes the journey is still on.

He insisted on working on his dream of ensuring he impacts the young players lives positive just like Eric Situma did to him.

“I aspire to develop youngsters so that they can earn a living from the game, get scholarships and go abroad. The same hope and inspiration that rugby gave me I hope to pass to someone else.”

His best moment in rugby is when the squad he nurtured from 2015 managed to reach the ESS final in 2018 and 2019 with the majority of the players from the squad graduating to the senior side.

“Watching the ESS squad I coached from 2015 reach the final after beating top sides in the country was the best moment. The squad was the best group I worked with. A number of them went on to join the senior team,” he stated.

The coach urges those who wish to be coaches to go for it.

“Do not listen to the naysayers. The country needs more coaches since we will have ambassadors in every region. Get the basics knowledge and keep refreshing the knowledge. Watch more games internationally and you will gain more.”

Simond Odongo on the extreme left poses with 2018/19 ESS Finalist Homeboyz RFC. Photo Courtesy/Homeboyz.

Odongo fancies digital marketing aside rugby though he insists, with a hatty laugh, his other occupation aside rugby is rugby. Besides Homeboyz, he works with Kings Rugby Development Academy (KRDA)

“Apart from rugby, I do rugby. I coach and try to offer hope to kids who do not get to play on the green surface, don’t get three meals in a day like the rest of us. By serving at KRDA my other philosophy has been that ‘treat, everyone, equally regardless of the race, religion or background.'”

For his final message, he said:

“My target is is plant trees that I will never see. By the time am leaving this earth, I would want to have changed someone’s life not only the pitch but in general life.”

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