Eagles coaches to assess talent at USA Rugby National Team Olympic Recruitment Camp

"I don't know if I would be where I am today if it weren't for rugby."

UPDATE:

The women's portion of the USA Rugby National Team Olympic Recruitment Camp will be rescheduled. Applicants will be notified of the future, to-be-determined date.

BOULDER, Colo. - USA Rugby announced Thursday the first National Team Olympic Recruitment Camp, set for the United States Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif., Jan. 10, 2015.

"I was drafted by the New England Patriots in 2012 and before I made it to the NFL I was playing rugby on various club and national teams," said former USA Rugby AIG Men's Junior All-American and under-19 MVP Nate Ebner. "USA Rugby allowed me to play not only across the United States, but also around the world, doing so by representing my country, which is a feeling rivaled by few.

"Rugby changed my life in so many positive ways and granted me these experiences, all through a USA Rugby camp similar to this one."

Two parallel combines will be held at the training site of the Men's and Women's Eagles Sevens teams, the U.S. representatives on the World Rugby HSBC Sevens World Series and World Rugby Women's Sevens Series, respectively. Both teams are currently in the midst of Rio 2016 Olympic Summer Games qualification seasons.

Coaches from both national teams will be on site to gauge the athleticism and abilities of rugby hopefuls, who must be 18 years of age or older to apply for the camp.

"We are consistently asked by athletes for opportunities outside of the competitive pathway to demonstrate their abilities to national and Olympic coaches," noted USA Rugby National Sevens Director Alex Magleby. "This is a chance to do that, with a primary focus on athletes of high-achievement from skill-transferable sports to rugby. Following the camp we will have a better understanding of where that athlete is, or should be placed, in the pathway--club, academy, national development, international."

Athletes interested in a future in the 15-a-side game of rugby are also welcome to apply for participation in the one-day camp at the OTC. With U.S. national team players in professional leagues such as the National Rugby Championship in Australia, Aviva Premiership in England, Top 14 in France, Top League in Japan, and others, USA Rugby seeks to build its player pool for the Rugby World Cup while simultaneously offering outstanding athletes the opportunity to pursue professional contracts, whether that is at the Olympic Training Center or abroad.

Green Bay Packers all-time leading rusher Ahman Green will be one of the National Football League's representatives at the OTC vying for a spot on the first Rugby Sevens Olympic team. Green attended a Men's Eagles Sevens training session earlier this year before assisting in the creation of the Green Bay Ball Strikers Rugby Club in Wisconsin.

Andrew Hawkins of the Cleveland Browns summarized his enthusiasm and interest in attending the camp: "I think every athlete grows up with dreams of one day being able to represent their country in the Olympics," Hawkins said. "Obviously, football is my passion, and playing in the NFL is a dream come true. So, if the NFL hadn't worked out for me as well as it has, I could definitely see myself competing for a spot in the Olympics with the U.S. National Rugby Team.

"I think there are so many elite athletes that have the ability to see crossover success in the game of rugby, and this camp is the first step for those athletes from other sports, like football, to take towards Olympic and Rugby World Cup success."

Multiple crossover athletes currently suit up for both sevens teams, including Carlin Isles of track and field fame. Jessica Javelet, who played field hockey at the University of Louisville before joining Ric Suggitt's Women's Eagles Sevens, scored seven tries in six matches at Atlanta 7s in 2014. Suggitt also brought into the player pool dual-sport athlete in ice hockey and soccer, Alev Kelter, from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, collegiate basketball players Lorrie Clifford and Melissa Fowler, and Olympic bobsledder Elana Meyers.

Isles played high school and college football in Ohio while maintaining the position of 36th-fastest sprinter in the United States. Following his omission from the London 2012 squad, Isles looked into and pursued rugby.

Isles showcased his athleticism and ability to learn the game quickly as he progressed through the USA Rugby High Performance Pathway. In the two years since he first picked up a rugby ball, Isles has become a staple on the Men's Eagles Sevens team and signed a professional contract with Glasgow Warriors of the Guinness Pro12 in Scotland in 2014.

"We placed Carlin with the Gentlemen of Aspen [Rugby Club] under the tutelage of [then Eagles Sevens] manager Andy Katoa and national team analyst Paul Goulding. He proved himself capable at the club level in a short time. We then took [Carlin] to Victoria 7s with Atlantis to assess his growth--he dominated at that emerging-elite / academy level. From there we contracted him," Magleby said. "For certain athletes who possess world-class physical abilities and mental fortitude, we can help expedite the pathway to international success. In Carlin's case that was five weeks from identification through club and academy to Olympic contract. More importantly, and to his credit, Carlin continues to work diligently to be a good rugby player, and a student of the game, but he still went through the process."

Many others have successfully transitioned from one American sport or another to rugby. American rugby great Dan Lyle, who was weighing an offer from the Minnesota Vikings, had a sporting background in football, basketball, and soccer. Lyle was expertly accelerated through the pathway by legendary coach Jack Clark from club rugby to national team camps to English Premiership newcomer of the year in a short timeframe.

"Rugby is a game of physicality intertwined with finesse and speed unlike any other sport," noted Ebner. "It requires a team effort that doesn't stop and anyone can score at any moment. The game is one of flow and transition where one moment you can be on a goal-line defensive stand to an offensive fast break with the blink of an eye. It taught me many lessons from mental toughness to professionalism and team camaraderie."

While top-end physical attributes are essential to a rugby player's success on the professional and international stages, an athlete's ability to play and learn a multi-dimensional, decision-making sport will be put to the test at the Recruitment Camp. Successful completion of a preliminary online rugby law exam before the camp will be the first evaluation of an athlete's ability to learn and apply him/herself to be a student of the game. At the end of the camp, athletes will find his or her place on the USA Rugby High Performance Pathway, be it at the Olympic Training Center, a National Development Academy, an AIG All-American team, or a club in the United States or abroad.

"People develop at different stages," Magleby said. "Some athletes physically mature earlier than others, and some are introduced to the game at later stages, so it makes sense we have multiple entry points into the system."

"A rugby camp of this caliber is a great way for athletes new to the sport to fast track themselves to work with the best players and coaches our country has to offer," Ebner said. "I think good athletes will be surprised at how quickly they transition into rugby and play at an international level, within just months of touching a rugby ball in some cases. For a sport that is growing rapidly throughout our country, I don't think there is a better opportunity for an athlete to get noticed with or without experience. I don't know if I would be where I am today if it weren't for rugby."

Visit the National Team Recruitment Camp page for more information on the application process and tentative camp schedule.