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HSAA Picture Clearer After Camp

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HSAA Picture Clearer After Camp

Rugby HS All Americans in 2014 camp. Joni Branham photo.
The HS All American Winter Camp is done and dusted, with the top tier of players facing off in a scrimmage on Wednesday. 
The entire post-Christmas week was a chance to reload for a program that has aged out some important talent. No more Calvin Whiting. No more Ben Cima. No more Malcolm May. No more Hanco Germishuys. No more Justin Allen, Seth Halliman, Wes Parker or Vili Helu.
But the young guys coming in, said prop Kalisi Moli, don’t really need that much help. They are doing just fine on their own. Instead, the returning players from last spring’s JV tour of Europe are now feeling that they should be stepping in and leading.
“I’ve been on tours so I think I’ve been showing some leadership around here,” said Back Bay center Aaron Matthews. 
“This is my third camp,” said Gonzaga prop Jack Iscaro. “After the tour over the summer there was a lot I felt I could improve on … we’ve got some great new talent coming in.”
So maybe reloading won’t be so difficult. It does seem like there’s a bit more solidity in the forwards, and certainly there continues to be more size in the group - George Fotu, Liam Jimmons, Parker Kelly, Josh Warnock, Bruce Finlay, and Chase Bixby are all 6-4 or taller, for example. 
Is there speed? Over 40 meters no player was clocked below 5.0, although that translates to a 4.57 40 yards. Several players were close to that, and many of the forwards clocked good speeds for their position. 
Head Coach Salty Thompson told Goff Rugby Report that the succession plan continues to work, with players who did well in the JV tour moving up, and new talent percolating through. And at this camp the players learned how to be on the team, and maybe what position they should be playing. (Note in Moli’s interview how he doesn’t play prop for his home club, but he does for the HSAAs.)
“You look at the team lists and you might think we pick a lot of scrumhalves, flyhalves, and No. 8s, but that’s because those are the positions the players or their coaches think they are. That doesn’t mean that’s where we will put them. If your best player is a back who can run and kick, he’s probably playing flyhalf.”
But more than finding a position for players, the camp gives players a leg up on learning the process. They learn the team lingo and its habits. They learn how to operate within a group they don’t know all that well in close quarters. They learn that Thompson confiscates cell phones overnight to ensure kids get rest and aren’t chatting with people back home when they should be sleeping.
It’s all crucial, and, Thompson said, wouldn’t be possible on this scale (130 players, 27 coaches and staff) without the support of Goff Rugby Report sponsor Aircraft Charter Solutions and the Easgle Impact Rugby Academy it supports. 
Next up for the HSAA program is the HS Elite 7s bracket at the Las Vegas Invitational, a tournament the HSAAs have won the last two years. Once again Thompson will field two teams, and once will have British Columbia as their top rivals. Ontario will send two teams, and Atlantis, Utah, Washington state, and the Raptor Academy will also send teams.
The HSAA squad may well be one that relies on size and power. Thompson has to work with what he has, and he has bruiser potential in this crop of players.

See video interviews with:
Jack Iscaro
Kalisi Moli
Aaron Matthews
Notes: Thompson and his coaches invited welcomed 130 players, but there are a few more on the radar. Some missed this camp due to injury, or family reasons, and at least one had a death in the family. Those players - such as Sim Mander and Derise Fuga - will be in the mix going forward.

(Click on Joni Branham's photos below to enlarge)

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