With a couple weeks remaining before the next round of the IRB Sevens World Series takes place in Adelaide, Australia, the USA Sevens team begins their preparation.
A group of 19 hopefuls are training at the US Olympic training center in Chula Vista, CA to jockey for the 12 open slots on the team.
Making a surprise return to the squad is Paul Emerick, who has been granted extra time off from his professional team in Italy. If one didn't know any better, they'd think that Emerick prefers life on the sevens circuit.
One thing that is certain is that Emerick has never been shy to profess his joy of playing for the his county and his play backs that up well.
“At the start of the season one of our goals was to not have more than 21 different players play in all eight tournaments. To do that,” USA Sevens Head Coach Al Caravelli explained, “we want to keep the core group together. I’m happy that nine of the players from Las Vegas will be back competing for their spots.
"Mark Bokhoven also returns from a recent injury. In addition, there will be two new players at the assembly. They are NFL converts who were spotted at the Las Vegas Invitational.”
The core is, indeed, in tact. As mentioned, nine of the twelve players that played in Las Vegas are in camp. Those players include Emerick, Kevin Swiryn, Matt Hawkins, Nese Malifa, Leonard Peters, Zach Test, Shalom Suniula, Marco Barnard, and Nick Edwards.
With the squad developing nicely, keeping this many players together bodes well for the next leg of the IRB Series. This group is growing in confidence at each turn as they see they are fully capable of competing with the best in the world.
Sadly, the team has lost speedster Bennie Brazell, for the time being, as he's been offered another shot at the NFL.
With their newest cross-over athlete setting his sights back on the NFL, Head Coach Al Caravelli wasted no time in bringing in his next batch of football converts to test their mettle with the National team.
Unlike Brazell, who came to the sport with no prior experience, the next two have been given their baptism to rugby at the club level.
Former Missouri football standouts Tony Temple and Tommy Saunders are joining the training camp after spending time playing for the Kansas City Blues the past few months. Both players spent time in the NFL after their collegiate careers. Temple played for the Cleveland Browns, while Saunders had stints with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Detroit Lions.
Temple, a running back by trade, rushed for 2552 yard in his collegiate career including back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons in 2006-2007. In his final collegiate game, Temple set a Cotton Bowl record with 281 yards rushing in Missouri's 38-7 win over Arkansas on New Year's Day 2008.
Saunders played wide receiver at Missouri and finished his career with 150 receptions, 1600 yards receiving, and 11 touchdowns. A physically gifted athlete and determined competitor, Saunders once challenged himself to do 100,000 pushups in a year. He finished with 100,084. A player to watch out for, Saunders has the tools and intangibles that should serve him well in sevens.
Other invitees to the training camp include youngsters Dmitri Efthmiou and Trevor Richards, both of which travelled to Fiji with the squad during their last training camp.
Mark Bokhoven also returns to camp with much to prove. Loaded with athleticism, but hampered by repeated injuries, Bokhoven may be running out of opportunities with the squad.
Rounding out the training squad are Peter Sio, Brian Barnard, Tai Enosa, Malakai Vaka, and Zach Pangelinan. All but Vaka have previous IRB experience with the USA Sevens squad.
The squad announcement is expected by the end of the week. The team will then travel to Australia this coming weekend and train in Adelaide for two days prior to the event.
Kicking off Mar. 19, the USA has been dealt another tough draw in Adelaide as they take on Sevens powerhouse England, then battle the host squad Australia, before finishing with the dangerous Polynesian nation Niue.
As with other IRB World Series events, the matches are available on ESPN360 for viewing.
Following the IRB Australia Sevens World Series stop in Adelaide, the USA joins twenty-three other nations in the biggest field of competition on the IRB Series in Hong Kong.
“Hong Kong is the grand daddy of all sevens tournaments,” Caravelli added. “Every tournament has a uniqueness, from the deserts in Dubai to the wonderful costumes in Wellington and the lights of Las Vegas. But, nothing can compare to the history, tradition and the special atmosphere that Hong Kong offers. This is the closest these athletes will be to a Super Bowl type setting.”
With a team growing in experience and athleticism, the USA is poised to make even more noise on the IRB Sevens Series in the coming weeks.
USA Sevens Player Pool
Barnard, Brian (OMBAC)
Barnard, Marco (Kutztown University)
Bokhoven, Mark (Gentlemen of Aspen)
Edwards, Nick (NYAC)
Efthimiou, Dimitri (Mystic River)
Emerick, Paul (Parma, Italy)
Enosa, Tai (Belmont Shore)
Hawkins, Matt (Belmont Shore)
Malifa, Valenese (Belmont Shore)
Pangelinan, Zach (OMBAC)
Peters, Leonard (Gentlemen of Aspen)
Richards, Trevor (University of Nebraska)
Saunders, Tommy (KC Blues)
Sio, Peter (Belmont Shore)
Suniula, Shalom (Pearl City)
Swiryn, Kevin (Old Puget Sound Beach)
Temple, Tony (KC Blues)
Test, Zach (Loughborough)
Vaka, Malakai (Reno Zephyrs)
Caravelli, Al, Head Coach
Durfee, AJ, Doctor
Fautley, Drew, Video Coach / Manager
Hayashida, Maury, Physio
Williams, David, Strength & Skills Coach