Chris Doherty is 30 years old, works for Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and is in his final year at Georgetown Law School. He was also the most valuable player on the 1977 Harvard football team. But currently, those are not his proudest achievements.

Talk to Doherty today and what he'll want to discuss is rugby.

Doherty is one of 26 players chosen out of a group of more than 100 to compete on the U.S. national rugby team in Wales this October.

Doherty, who grew up in Massachusetts, had never even seen a rugby game when a colleague, Charlie Casartello, recruited him for the Washington team in 1980. Doherty came here in 1979 to work as a campaign volunteer for Kennedy after graduating from Harvard in 1978.

"It was hard picking up the skills of rugby because a lot of the skills you develop in football are hard to break out of, such as being more interested in just getting a first down as opposed to keeping the ball alive," said Doherty, a fullback at Harvard. "You never want to be tackled in rugby. You've got to get the ball into another person's hands, keep it alive instead of driving it forward."

Doherty's ascent began in 1980 at age 23 when he began playing for the Washington Rugby Football Club. After two games he was promoted to starter. Three years later, he was selected to a regional all-star team.

In 1984, he was selected as a reserve to the national team. This year, on Aug. 8, he attended the trial camp of the national team, the Eagles. Sixty players attended and 26 were picked to tour Wales. The team will play six games, culminating in a test match against the Wales national team at Cardiff Arms Park Stadium, which holds 60,000.

Since rugby is as revered in Wales as football is here, a full house is expected for those matches.

"It's really something to be able to play in front of that many people," said Doherty. "Wales has turned out some of the best teams in the history of the sport. It's hallowed ground to people there."

One person who won't be traveling with Doherty to Wales is his wife Sally, whose initial indoctrination into the sport was less than auspicious. Although Doherty calls the sport much less hazardous than football, Sally Doherty sees it differently.

"I had never even seen a game when I started dating Chris," she said. "Then, in his first game I watched, his friend {Casartello} ended up breaking his leg. I wound up at the hospital with Charlie for two hours.

"I would love to be able to go to Wales {expenses are not paid for spouses}. But between the playing and the practicing, we really wouldn't end up having too much time together."

First-year national team coach George Betzler sees Doherty as an important player, physically and emotionally.

"He can be a stabilizing force to a back line because of his strength and his handling ability," said Betzler. "He's a very strong crashing runner so we can consolidate the ball and run off of him."

Betzler first saw Doherty play eight years ago and it was his "ability to cut back and break through the defense" that first caught Betzler's attention. Washington Coach Ken Wood echoed Betzler's assessment.

"He's a very aggressive player. He uses his size to good advantage on both offense and defense," said Wood. "He's intimidating and he is excellent at cutting back against the grain. He is extremely difficult to bring down, and that's very important in rugby."

Although Doherty's rise in rugby has been almost meteoric, Wood said he was surprised it has taken so long for Doherty to be selected to the national team.

"In my view, he should have been chosen a lot earlier. He's been captain of our team for several years and to be a rugby captain takes a lot of knowledge of the game and quick decisions on the field, much more so than football," said Betzler. "We get very few good American captains, but Chris is one of them."

So Doherty continues his work on Capitol Hill and his classes in the evening as he bides his time until October. He says most of his colleagues don't even know of his extracurricular activity. "I try to keep my work and play separate." But he is certainly looking forward to the trip.

"It's a great honor a lot of guys aspire to," said Doherty. "Anyone would think it's an honor to represent your country.

"I've been very active athletically all my life. But it became clear after college that I wasn't pursuing or being pursued for a career as a professional athlete. Rugby has more than filled that void in terms of staying active athletically. It's not the type of sport where if you want to be competitive at a high level that you can take lightly because it's so physical and demanding in terms of its fitness level.

"But it has allowed me to travel around the United States and overseas under unique circumstances. So this really means a lot to me."