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Some Questions and Answers for USA 7s Camp

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Some Questions and Answers for USA 7s Camp

Brett Thompson scoring the winning try against Canada in 2014. Injuries have reduced his time since. Is he healthy now? David Barpal photo.

As the USA Men’s 7s team starts camp to kick off the 2016-17 season, some questions need to be answered.

Most of the squad from last season is back, but not everyone, and that leaves some holes and some roles to fill. In addition, as Mike Friday told USA Rugby last week, with several established 7s players also pushing for spots in the USA 15s team leading into 2017’s World Cup qualifiers, Friday will need a large group of players available to play.

Not getting picked for the opener December 2-3 in Dubai doesn’t mean you’re out for the season.

So, on to the questions, and perhaps a few answers:


Is College Rugby supplying enough talent?

It looks that way. Of the 25 players invited to the current High Performance Camp, 19 played college rugby, and seven are either in school now, or recently graduated.


Are we getting some crossover talent?

Possibly. Former college football players Alex Elkins and Spike Davis got a look with the 7s team last season and showed very well in PRO Rugby. Walt Elder, who played rugby at Kansas State, was also a pretty good football player. 


What holes need to be filled?

Zack Test just had surgery on his hand, and isn’t in camp. Nate Augspurger is back in New York and concentrating on 15s. Ben Pinkelman has had shoulder surgery and is finishing up school at Colorado State. So that’s one guy who can play almost anywhere, one halfback, and one tall forward. Garrett Bender is also not in camp. So, yeah, clearly the Eagles are hiring among the forwards. And especially one of the players they have needed is someone who can fill the role of Andrew Durutalo, who was a poaching machine. They got some of that from Bender last year, but not to Durutalo’s level. If a player can emerge as a ball hawk in camp, he should be given a job.


Who could fill those holes?

Zach Bonte (formerly UCLA) is a really good all-around rugby player who, so All American captain Aladdin Schirmer said, will do anything for the team. And he’s capable. It’s possible Anthony Welmers (formerly Davenport, Grandville HS) could also fill that ball-poaching role. The player we like is Alec Gletzer (formerly SBCC, Cal, Los Gatos HS). He’s got the engine, and the ball-seeking desire. 

As for a big, powerful presence, think about the likes of Elkins and Davis - guys who go through you rather than around. Gabe Rufflin (Utah, formerly Herriman HS) could be that kind of guy, too. Chris Turori has been around the fringes for a long time, and can be an imposing runner, and Walt Elder has been that guy for the KC Blues.

And obviously Friday and his coaches are looking for another halfback. Augspurger’s move back to New York to play with Old Blue leaves a hole at 3rd halfback which they will want to fill (ironic since Friday opted for just two in Rio). Nick Boyer (formerly Cal, Jesuit HS), Don Pati (formerly Utah, Highland), and Stephen Thomasin (formerly San Diego State) all could vie for that position. Pati is more of a twiner - he can pass it and be the first receiver. Thomasin is more of a scrumhalf type who can play as a hooker, too. Boyer is big for a scrumhalf, and probably could play almost anywhere. Brady Gent (Davenport, formerly Rockford HS) is another shooting for this job.

Somebody has to put his hand up as a player who can win balls in the air. That might be Matai Leuta, Turori, or Brett Thompson. If Thompson’s healthy, he could be an excellent addition.


Do we need another fast guy?

Carlin Isles had surgery last week, but it’s not for something super-serious so he could well be back. But you have to have some backup there. Kevon Williams, who helped New Mexico Highlands win small-college 7s championships, is an obvious candidate. 


Did we miss anyone?

It’s kind of hard to know where to fit Jihad Khabir. He’s a flyhalf at AIC, but thinking of him as just a flyhalf is a mistake. He’s got skills all over the place, and some height and aerial ability. His acceleration is something to behold. Where he fits, it’s hard to know, but it seems like he’s made for the USA 7s team. He could be an excellent addition, at some point, as an impact sub who comes in anywhere in the backs. It’s good to see him in camp.

And while we’re talking about players with special 7s skills, how about Don Pati? It’s easy to forget that he was at the center of many of Utah’s best 7s moments (including winning the first CRC in overtime). He’s another for whom you’d like to see a spot.


What's the big question?

That would: "Who’s fit?" That’s always the caveat that players should meet the fitness standards. 


OK, so can you pick the team?

Ha! No, we can’t. But we can speculate. If you think that last year’s core of Perry Baker, Danny Barrett, Madison Hughes, Carlin Isles, Folau Niua, and Maka Unufe come back, that’s only six guys. Martin Iosefo makes seven. However, several of those guys are looking to push for a place with the USA 15s team - Barrett, Iosefo - so maybe they’re not all available. 

Guys who played with the USA team before but also are looking at 15s, such as Thompson and Will Holder, might also be in and out.

It might be that players like Stringer, Gent, Rufflin, and Khabir are getting looked at for the first time. Khabir is right in the middle of AIC’s league season - you wonder if he misses Dubai and Cape Town just because of that.

So in the end, there’s room for some players to break in - lots of room. Look for Matai Leuta to get a good, long look. Expect Thompson, if he’s finally healed, to get some much-needed playing time. Other known entities, such as Stephen Tomasin, will likely get picked.

But someone, maybe more than a few, will be basically new to the program. Someone is going to get a chance to look great in Dubai. The Eagle 7s team needs a ball-poacher, and power runner, a third halfback, someone who can run and tackle (duh, but you know what we mean), and someone who can win ball in the air. If you are new to the squad and can do one or more of those things, you’ve got a shot.

Players in Current 7s Camp in Chula Vista:

Perry Baker (no HS or college rugby, but played for Daytona Men's Club as a high-schooler)

Danny Barrett (SFGG U19s and Cal)

Zach Bonte (Back Bay U19s, UCLA)

Nick Boyer  (Jesuit Sacramento, Cal)

Spike Davis (Crossover from football. Played football at SMU)

Walt Elder (Kansas State) 

Alex Elkins (Crossover from football. Played football at SMU)

Brady Gent (Rockford HS, Mich., Davenport University) 

Alec Gletzer (Los Gatos HS, SBCC, Cal)

Will Holder (East Palo Also U19s, West Point)

Madison Hughes (Wellington College UK, Dartmouth)

Martin Iosefo (Montana)

Carlin Isles (Crossover from track)

Jihad Khabir (Perry Street Prep, American International College) 

Mataiyasi Leuta (Cal State Monterey Bay)

Folau Niua (East Palo Alto U19s)

Don Pati (Highland, Utah, University of Utah) 

Gabriel Ruflin (Herriman HS, Utah, University of Utah) 

Bailey Stringer (HS in Australia, Arizona State University) 

Brett Thompson (Tempe U19s, Arizona - also played football at Arizona)

Stephen Tomasin (San Diego State)

Chris Turori (Palomar JC)

Maka Unufe (United U19s in Utah)

Anthony Welmers (Grandville HS, Mich., Davenport)

Kevon Williams (New Mexico Highlands University)