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How the HSAA Team Gets Picked

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How the HSAA Team Gets Picked

I saw a comment on the selection of the High School All American team that intrigued me, in part because it’s a common criticism for these kinds of teams - how come you don’t have any players from (insert region or state here)?

 

There’s a different answer for every player and region. There are players from some areas who might have been invited, but are injured, or attending football camp, or for some other reason can’t go to Argentina.

There are teams from some regions (Cathedral in Indiana, Jesuit in California) that have  had excellent seasons, but just because you might be the best team, doesn’t mean that every player on your team is the best at his position.



Even if you look at the all-star tournaments, you’ll see winning teams not necessarily get the lion’s share of picks. Washington may well be the best select side in the country right now, but they got two players on the HSAA team. There were a few more (Johnny Reid comes to mind) who might have gotten a nod, but they got two. Why? Because there were other players out there that the coach, Salty Thompson, and his staff, liked better.

Thompson and Michael Engelbrecht and a host of other coaches went to all of the Regional All-Star Tournaments. They know quite well what the standard is, and they also have seen just about every player who wants to be considered.

That said, Thompson has acknowledged that several states - Indiana, Florida, Massachusetts, Texas, Tennessee, Georgia, Arizona (Thompson’s home state), Oregon, and Colorado all have none or, in the case of Colorado and Florida, only one player on the team.

Why is that? The factors listed above. Some players from those areas were in the running, but something else got in the way. Other times, what got in the way was another player’s talent.

Are you a flanker? Well go up against Hanco Germishuys of Nebraska, who was outstanding for the USA U20s despite being the 5th-youngest player at the tournament (and the youngest not playing for Hong Kong). Are you a lock? Can you match up with Justin Allen, who is 6-10, or Siaosi Mahoni, who is 6-7? Is there a center who plays better, game-in, game-out, than Calvin Whiting? Can you kick goals better than Ben Cima? Scrumhalf? Well Louis Mulholland has been playing at the Saracens Academy for six years.

See? It gets pretty hard. What you will see soon enough is that many players from those supposed overlooked regions will be at the Stars & Stripes game. You will also find that some players who were on select side JV teams will speed past some of the upperclassmen. Talent speaks loudest.

All along Salty Thompson has said he won’t cry about players not being available. Some of those players will go on to play football, and return to rugby at some point (his own son, Brett, is an example of that). Some will enter a top college program like Cal or BYU or St. Mary’s or Life and develop there. That’s all fine, says Thompson. The point is, there are multiple pathways, and the HS All American team is one of them.

So … what kind of team is this? It’s not quite as strong up front because Titi Lamositele was a beast and Valdemar Lee-lo was tough, too. But there’s power there, and perhaps more consistent power, with Hawaii’s Suwaiter Poch, Jesus Arias out of United in Utah, and Derisa “Bubba” Fuga out of Liberty in Washington.

The big strength might be height. While Northern California struggled at times at the Great Northwest Challenge, they did have Mahoni and 6-5 George Fotu. Liam Jimmons is a special talent in that he is 6-5, can move around the park, and has an English mother. A scout from Wasps was looking at these players and just shaking his head at their size, ability, and youth. Jimmons, with the passport issue not a problem, is a prime candidate to go overseas.

We haven’t even mentioned Allen, who has been playing in Ireland and is the most monstrous of a monstrous second row.

The back row isn’t bad, either, with Germishuys the pick of them, but Wes Parker (another one out of a lightly-regarded state, Kentucky), and Vili Helu out of Northern California are full of potential, also.

Out wide, the HSAA team is perhaps most in need of some cohesion and careful nurturing. They will definitely need Cima’s trusty boot, but Alex Walsh can kick, too, and Mitchell Wilson, who is one of the players who played his way onto this team at an all-star tournament, is an interesting find at fullback.

Whiting is the careful head and chief leader on this backline, but watch out for Sim Mander, who was with Wasps in England and is headed for UCLA.

 If it were just a case of getting the top players from the top teams, then all you would have to do is call eight or ten coaches and you’d have your High School All Americans. And you’d probably miss Jimmons, Fuga, Germishuys, Connor Cudeback out of Belmont Shore, or Fotu.

It takes a lot of work and time to track these players and those at the Stars & Stripes. Did Thompson and his staff get it perfectly right? That’s unlikely, as I have not seen yet a major coach who didn’t overlook something somewhere. But he’s got it as right as he can get it, and he did it by not being locked into thinking that the NIT winners or whatever should populate this team.

Think he’s missed the boat?There’s a system in place to fix that. Get your state back on the All-Star rugby bandwagon. There are very strong rugby states that don’t take all-star rugby seriously. Have an all-star team, but it’s not all that good? Look at your preparation. Look at the level of competition in your state. Look at your recruiting.

But when you look at this High School All American team, remember to look at, and see, that emblem on the chest. These kids were asked to go, and said “yes.” These kids are the ones singing the anthem, and they’re the ones that have to play Argentina, Uruguay, and Italy.