Published on November 5, 2018 at 11:26 pm Contact Eli: [email protected] Comments Facebook Twitter Google+ Syracuse gathered at Oswego for its first game of 2018. As they huddled up, the pitch was hounded with cheers and chants from the home fans. Usually a disturbance for players, first-year graduate student Jean-Eric van der Elst felt a strong sense of peace. His 16-year history with the game had prepared him for the moment.“The chants, they are my favorite part of the game,” van der Elst said. “When we step onto the field, we all have each other’s back. We play together. We’re all committed to one goal.”van der Elst’s history with the game is not linear, rather it consists of an upbringing that saw him move between five different countries, including Spain, Russia, Tanzania, South Africa and ultimately the United States. Shifting between these different cultures has helped him both on and off the field, shaping him into an all-around player, making him a seamless fit for the Orange.“I played in a lot of different countries,” van der Elst said. “Different rugby cultures around the world allowed me to have more of a broad vision of the game.”AdvertisementThis is placeholder textSusie Teuscher | Digital Design EditorMost notably among the countries he has lived in, van der Elst believes that his years in South Africa were key to his path in rugby. van der Elst was accepted into one of the most prestigious rugby schools in all of South Africa (Bishops Diocesan College) at the age of 12, and he said the passion for the game around the area was above anything he has seen in his life. van der Elst added that the rivalry between Bishops and their opponents inspired him. His time there also taught him the true spirit of the game, something he believes has been neglected by many players these days.van der Elst has had many encounters with dirty play, something he said he never stoops to. During an exhibition game at Bishops, an opposing player intentionally poked him in the eye.“I wanted to fight back, but I knew it wasn’t worth it,” van der Elst said. “I knew what my real goal was.”Arriving in Syracuse this fall, van der Elst was unsure of where he would fit into the team. It didn’t matter, van der Elst said. By traveling all around the world, and having to change positions constantly, van der Elst has gained experience on both offense and defense.“Jean-Eric could play in any one of seven back line positions, each of which have specific skill sets,” SU rugby head coach Bob Wilson said. “He performs at a high level with passing, kicking and evasive running. He has unselfishly adopted a position (full back) that best helps the team.”van der Elst believes that with different coaches, all who valued different aspects of the game, he has become someone who doesn’t fit the criteria of one position or another.Trailing 5-0 early on in the game, van der Elst scored his first goal of the year off a perfectly executed set-piece, igniting the Orange to their first win on the year. van der Elst hadn’t expected that be his role, but after a teammate challenged him to score, he flushed in the two points, and since has scored 53 more. His 55 points rank second in the league.van der Elst has come a long way since being introduced to rugby at the age of 6. And it’s that path which has morphed him into one of Syracuse’s top options.