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With engineering career waiting, Nick Civetta following rugby passion

Nick Civetta has followed his passion for rugby. | Travis Prior, KLC Fotos via USA Rugby

Nick Civetta probably could be doing something else.

Civetta, a 28-year-old lock for the USA Eagles and the Doncaster Knights in England’s second division, graduated from Notre Dame with a B.S. in civil engineering and earned a master’s in geotechnical engineering from Cal. But that engineering career will wait until Civetta’s run in rugby is over.

“You only have one opportunity to do something like this in your life,” he said.

Civetta started for the Eagles in their 59-22 loss to the New Zealand Maori All Blacks. In front of an announced crowd of 35,051 at Soldier Field, the USA-Maori All Blacks match capped Saturday’s Rugby Weekend tripleheader that also saw the top-ranked and reigning world champion New Zealand Black Ferns beat the USA Women’s Eagles 67-6. In the second match, Ireland, the No. 2 men’s team in the world, defeated Italy 54-7.

As for Civetta, he has crisscrossed the United States and jumped an ocean to play rugby.

“It’s been remarkable,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s been a heck of a way to spend your 20s. I’ve learned a lot about myself and how resilient I can be, and it’s been eye-opening.”

Civetta’s journey has featured many twists. It also started relatively late.

As an 18-year-old in South Bend, Indiana, Civetta first played the sport and eventually starred for the Notre Dame Rugby Football Club, earning All-America honors twice. Civetta said his rugby discovery came when he sought a bigger group of friends and saw some rugby players throwing around a “funny-shaped ball.”

“I just jumped out onto the pitch one day, and I fell in love the first day out,” he said.

In 2012, he suited up for San Francisco Golden Gate RFC, then moved to New York Athletic Club before going to Italian side Lazio. Shifts to Rugby Viadana and Rugby Club I Medicei followed before 2016, when Civetta joined the Newcastle Falcons in England’s top division.

Civetta appeared in only five matches for the Falcons and went on loan to Doncaster, which signed him to a permanent deal earlier this year. Now he’s establishing himself on the U.S. national team a decade after his life changed.

“That day was 2008,’’ Civetta said, ‘‘and to now, I’ve changed my life a million times just for the game of rugby, and I’ve put everything into it. It’s been a heck of a journey. I never expected to be here. It’s something that I always have had as a goal, to play for the national team.”

The next goal is the 2019 World Cup in Japan. Then, perhaps, his post-rugby life and a return to engineering. With his 30s approaching, Civetta said he’s applying for a master’s program at Cambridge University.

“At some point in your life, you’re going to have to work for 30 years,” he said. “I’ve just been delaying that as much as I can until as late as possible.”