Matt Hogan was once a bludgeoning force on the rugby pitch in Australia. He dodged swarms of defenders attempting to lay a devastating blow.
Rugby is a team sport with 15 players on each side with no padding, going head to head in hopes of pounding the ball past the opponents for a score. All of those opponents are eager to physically punish the ball carrier for coming in their direction.
Today, Hogan is far from the vicious pitch, in the docile waters of the natatorium in Alumni Arena.
Swimming is more of an art form – there is no defense, and no contact. The swimmer's competition isn't against a vicious foe, but against the environment itself. The swimmer's quest is to find the perfect stroke, to glide through the water smoothly.
It's hard to imagine how someone could make the transition from the bruising rugby field to the much tamer pool deck – but this move was made out of necessity by Hogan.
This past fall, Hogan's swim career reached the highest level as he qualified for the Olympic trials, an accomplishment that most swimmers will never reach. But Hogan still has lingering memories of his glory days as a rugby player in Australia.
His childhood was swayed by the sport, and a future career in swimming was far from his mind then.
Rugby is widely considered to be the most popular sport in Australia, and Hogan was admittedly good at it. But his career abruptly came to an end after the divorce of his parents.
Hogan's mother, Denise, originally from Michigan, relocated to Australia with her husband and Hogan's father. But the end of her marriage forced Denise to move back to the U.S. with Hogan and his brother, Alex.
"It was very tough on me for the first couple of months," Hogan said. "It was definitely a culture shock and a change for me, there was a lot of adjusting."
Although Hogan is having success in America he misses the natural lifestyle of down under. He has fond childhood memories of growing up in Australia, both on and off the pitch.
"Back when I was a kid my dad and I would go hunting for kangaroo down at his farm," Hogan said. "It was a pretty eye-opening and fun experience especially when it came to picking them up so we could have them for dinner the next day. Definitely something you don't get to do every day."
Hogan's first year in the U.S. was the toughest, as he was completely clueless how things worked in his new country. The laid-back lifestyle of Sydney, Australia was nonexistent, as was the sport that Hogan had such passion for.
Hogan was forced to quit, as the skill level of rugby in America was not up to Australia's standards.
"There just weren't as many options for rugby [in the U.S.]," Hogan said. "I tried it out for a little bit, but it just wasn't the same. It wasn't the same competition involved."
He couldn't get rugby off of his mind.
Hogan tried to replace his passion for the sport with American football. His attempt to keep his desire for rugby through football was short lived – he quit after just two practices.
"I couldn't deal with all the pads I had to wear, I just hated it," Hogan said. "I was just too used to putting a jersey on and going out there."
This left one option left on the table for him – albeit one that was not at all similar.
In Australia everyone is forced to take swim classes. Hogan's interest in the sport was minimal even though he would consistently come in first place in the class competitions. He saw it as more of a recreational hobby.
While other kids were swimming all summer for club teams, he was playing rugby.
In fact, it wasn't until he was stateside that he competed in an actual competition.
Hogan's move to the U.S. was what ultimately molded him into the swimmer he is today. When he first arrived to Michigan his sophomore year of high school, his swim coaches acknowledged the natural talent he had.
Hogan developed recognition from some of the top Division-1 schools after breaking a few high school swimming records, but the junior chose to come to Buffalo instead of the more prestigious institutions.
"I was choosing between University of Michigan and [UB]," Hogan said. "I basically decided if I went to U of M instead of here, it would've taken me two years to become a huge player on the team. I didn't like that idea, I wanted to affect the scoring and know that I was contributing to the team right away."
Michigan is known for being a swimming powerhouse; no team has won more National Championships than the Wolverines. Fourteen-time gold medalist Michael Phelps, the most high-profile swimmer in the world, trained there before his Olympic runs with the former Michigan head coach – but that wasn't for Hogan.
Hogan's lengthy 6-foot-5 frame – that was once used to level his opposition – would propel him to success at the college level. He won the 200-meter freestyle at the Mid-American Championships last season.
But in swimming the accolades come on the individual level, as opposed to those shared by the team in rugby, so Hogan has had to find someone to help with his motivation to fully utilize that raw ability he possessed.
Fellow teammate and best friend, junior captain Matt Schwippert, has been a large contributor to Hogan's success. Schwippert is also one of the Bulls' top swimmers, having qualified for Olympic trials each of the past two years.
Schwippert saw the potential Hogan had halfway through their freshman season together. He had come to the realization that others had already acknowledged – that Hogan's talent was just a matter of him realizing it and committing himself to swimming.
"It's really nice for him and I, it goes both ways, he motivates me as much as I motivate him," Schwippert said. "We both have very similar goals in the sport of swimming. It's useful to have a training partner like him, that way in practice every day we can train next to each other and push each other as hard as we can go."
The mutual motivation between the two swimmers has helped them qualify for this year's London summer Olympic trials.
Although swimming might not have been his preferred path, his determination to be a successful athlete overpowered his original mindset.
Buffalo swim coach Andy Bashor still thinks Hogan has not reached his full potential.
"He's going to be a force to be reckoned in these next couple of years," Bashor said.
It's a different type of force for Hogan now. He may not be physically punishing his competitors, but his athletic ambitions remain the same: to be the best at his craft.