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Cariaga Has Plans For New-Look USA U23s

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Cariaga Has Plans For New-Look USA U23s

Colton Cariaga checking his notes during the D1A final. David Barpal photo.

Life University Head Coach Colton Cariaga is now the USA U23 Men's Sevens Head Coach, and the announcement is a big step in the work to develop D1A coaches to higher levels.

Cariaga, who was a collegiate All American as a player before taking the reins at Life. While the All American program has changed its name to the U23s when it comes to on-field play (there will still be a Collegiate All American list), it’s pretty much the same thing—young players who have an eye toward representing their country learning what international rugby is about.

Is this a job interview for something bigger then? Cariaga said he didn’t really think of it that way, instead saying: “it’s kind of what you make of it. Obviously coaching college-age players is something I have a bit of experience in, but I’d also say I am pretty happy with the job I have and the situation I’m in.”

But he acknowledges that running a rep team is very different from running a collegiate team. In college you can create the team you want, taking the time to balance the different personalities and find the right mix. With a representative team that has assembled for a short time, you can’t do that.

“So the sessions off the field can be as important as the sessions on the field in terms of developing your team,” he explained.

If COVID-19 lockdowns continue to relax, we’ll likely see the RugbyTown 7s held in Glendale, Colo., and the USA U23s will suit up there. Cariaga wants to use that event to replicate what it’s like on the World Series circuit, and give the players a taste of the high-performance life.

Right now, with players basically stuck in their hometowns, he is working hard with those players to develop their fitness and their understanding of the expectations. 

Some other thoughts from Colton Cariaga:

The USA U23s is not a college team, but it will likely be heavily college players. There are young talents in professional rugby or playing with academies that he will be looking at.

The U23s is an Eagle development team, so players will have to be USA eligible, or, in the case of residency, will have to be eligible very, very soon, in order to be considered. This is not a program for someone who doesn’t plan to be a USA Eagle.

All divisions will be looked at. “There is plenty of rugby talent outside of D1A,” said Cariaga. “But the daily training and the strength and conditioning in D1A gives those players a bit of an advantage. But we could certainly see a player come out of DIAA or DII, or out of the club programs.”

What is notable, though, is that USA Rugby might possibly be taking a serious look at tracking young coaches with the wherewithal and the desire to coach at the highest level. Domestic coaches with that aspiration need experience coaching against international opposition.