UCSC alumnus drafted to Major League Rugby

Jackson Zabierek is the first-ever Banana Slug to be drafted into Major League Rugby

Jackson Zabierek (Merrill ’23) was the 18th pick in the 2023 Major League Rugby Collegiate Draft by the Los Angeles Team.

On the first day of rugby practice his freshman year, Jackson Zabierek (Merrill ’23, economics and business management) said he would someday make the USA National Rugby Team. The 2023 UC Santa Cruz graduate just became one step closer to making his dream a reality. 

Zabierek was the 18th pick in the 2023 Major League Rugby Collegiate Draft by the Los Angeles Team (formerly Atlanta) after making the USA Rugby U23 National Academy team, a stepping stone to the USA National Team. He will spend the next two and a half months training and conditioning with the USA National Academy in Charlotte, North Carolina. He will start playing with the Los Angeles Team in January. 

Zabierek is the first UCSC alumni ever to be drafted into a Major League Rugby team. 

“Everything’s riding on this,” Zabierek said before the draft. “Making it into the Academy could cement my ability to play professional rugby for as long as I wanted. The Academy would also set me on a path towards playing for the USA National Team, which would ultimately be the best thing I could do.” 

UCSC Rugby head coach Jeremy Sanford remembers the day Zabierek proclaimed he would one day play professional rugby. Sanford is overjoyed to see his former student and former Rugby Captain make it to where no UCSC alumni have been before. 

“If you meet him, he’s strong, compact, agile, and dynamic, and that’s an amazing combination,” Sanford says. “But what makes him a step above everyone is that he works harder than any student I’ve ever met.” 

Sanford added that Zabierek is the strongest rugby player he has ever seen in his over 14 years of coaching at UC Santa Cruz.

UCSC’s Men’s Rugby entered D1A status for the first time in the team’s history in the 2022-2023 season and demonstrated they belong in the highly competitive division. Zabierek’s history-making draft only solidifies UCSC’s ability to go head-to-head with collegiate rugby teams nationwide. Sanford says that Zabierek’s accomplishments will continue to make UCSC Rugby a sought-after team amongst prospective and transfer students. 

“The impact is going to be profound,” Sanford said. “I hear from students all over California excited about coming to UCSC. I think what’s going to happen is that many students will realize that they want to play great rugby, go to a top research university, and be by the coast. They’ll put all those things together and say, ‘I can have it all if I go to UC Santa Cruz.’” 

From the East Field to the Major League 

While at UCSC, Zabierek played rugby for four years while he pursued his B.A. in economics and business management. He became captain in 2020 and continued to lead UCSC Rugby through its inaugural season in D1A in the 2022-2023 season. 

After graduating he played for the California Grizzlies, a team based in the Northern Bay Area. With the Grizzlies, Zabierek spent two weeks in Chile playing against top-tier international players. He said he is grateful for the experience that wouldn’t have been possible without the support of his community back home. 

In June, Zabierek set up a GoFundMe to raise funds to play rugby for the California Grizzlies. With the help of UCSC rugby alumni, coaches, friends, and family, he surpassed his fundraising goal. 

“It was really nice to see that support and the community’s generosity,” he said. “I wasn’t sure how much I’d be able to get, but the alumni went above and beyond and made it possible for me. They made that happen, and I’m very grateful.” 

Zabierek has his eyes set on the USA National Team but says he’ll never forget the people that helped him get to where he is now. 

“I’m going to miss playing for Santa Cruz,” Zabierek said. “It was my home for the past four years, and the coaches and the players, I really couldn’t have asked for better people. They’re working hard, and I’m extremely excited to see them play this year. I’m even more excited to come back for the alumni game, put them to the test, and play alongside the people that helped me get to the Grizzlies and ultimately to where I am right now.”