The USA Sevens squad is off to Fiji to begin an unprecedented buildup to the USA Sevens which will take place in just under four weeks time. The preparation includes playing in the Digical Suva Sevens in Fiji, another week of training with Fiji Sevens squad, before heading off to the Wellington (NZ) Sevens, and culminating in the USA Sevens in Las Vegas February 13-14.
With high expectations for Las Vegas, the big buildup may be just what the doctor ordered. USA 7's Coach Al Caravelli also got a surprise infusion to the squad as Paul Emerick was made available for the events by his professional team in Italy.
With the return of Team Captain Kevin Swiryn from injury and Emerick added to the squad the USA Sevens team has just gotten a lot better. Swiryn is a bonafide sevens star and Emerick brings a toughness and spark to the team that has been lacking this season.
Both players were key ingredients in the USA Sevens squad that reached the Cup Semi-Finals at the USA Sevens in 2009. Swiryn, teamed with budding sevens star Nick Edwards (8 tries in 2 IRB events this season) gives the USA two big time finishers. With them, the mix that Caravelli is working on might pull off some magic in the coming weeks.
Caravelli takes a revamped squad of fifteen players to Fiji and will whittle that group down to 12 players for the Wellington and Las Vegas stops on the IRB Sevens World Series.
New additions to the squad also include Marco Barnard who put in some good work towards the end of last year's sevens series, Dimitiri Efthimiou who opened eyes during Belmont Shore's recent trip to the Plata Del Mar Sevnes tournament in Argentina for sevens hopefuls, Trevor Richards from the University of Nebraska who was in sevens camp earlier this season, and Bennie Brazell who is, by far, the most intriguing of the bunch.
Brazell joins the USA Sevens team with no prior rugby experience, but holds with him everything that the rugby world fears from the massive pool of elite athletes that exists in the United States.
All experience issues aside, if he makes the sevens squad, for Wellington and Las Vegas, Brazell could be considered one of the best pure athletes on the sevens circuit. Checking in at 6'0" and 182 lbs, size is not an issue. Brazell played football at Louisiana State University before being drafted in the seventh round (2006) by the Cincinnati Bengals.
He was also an All-American track star in college and placed 8th in the 400 meter hurdles at the 2004 Olympic Games. The combination of Olympic level speed and football instinct are the type of package that have American rugby fans salivating over cross-over athletes. How he takes to the game is a tale yet to be told.
Expect Caravelli to give him a chance to get his feet wet. Crossover athletes aren't new to Caravelli's camps, but past crossovers were never really given the opportunity to play in pressure situations. That trend has been acknowledged by Caravelli and something that he has remedied in the past year.
Leonard Peters was the first break through, taking to the game quickly, and while many still refer to him as a cross-over athlete he has done enough to merit being called a rugby player.
With the success of Peters this past year and the Olympic inclusion for sevens, expect even more and more converts in the coming years. While you can never overlook the rugby skills and instincts that come with playing the game from a young age, pure unabashed athleticism cannot be ignored.
That's the great part of the game of sevens and why the United States will be considered among the elite of the sevens world far before they gain that same recognition in 15's. The game of sevens is a far easier game in which to adapt athletes to rugby.
While there are still plenty of nuances to pick up, if you put an Olympic class runner with the cutting ability and power of an NFL player into space...try and stop him.
And yes, America has a lot of guys like that.
USA Sevens Squad:
Kevin Swiryn (Old Puget Sound Beach) Captain
Marco Barnard (Kutztown University)
Mark Bokhoven (Denver Barbarians)
Bennie Brazell (Unattached)
Nick Edwards (NYAC)
Dimitri Efthimiou (Mystic River)
Paul Emerick (Overmach Parma)
Matt Hawkins (Belmont Shore)
Ata Malifa (Belmont Shore)
Nese Malifa (Belmont Shore)
Leonard Peters (Aspen)
Mile Pulu (SFGG)
Trevor Richards (University of Nebraska)
Shalom Suniula (Pearl City)
Zack Test (Loughborough Students)