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Coming off the High School All American tour of South Africa, Head Coach Salty Thompson had a lot to think about.

He knew he had made a lot of headway. The team had battled hard in some tough games, finishing 3-1. The door had been opened a little wider for Polynesian players, who were a bigger part of this team than in previous years. But he had a couple of minor discipline problems (they are teenagers after all) and came out of the tour also saying the program still struggles to find enough height at some positions.

Now it’s a new cycle, as Thompson ran his post-Christmas camp for 74 players from all over the country. It’s time to spread the net, said the coach. 

“The purpose of the camp was to evaluate and develop players identified over the past season, through the Regional All Star Tournaments, High School Nationals, other regional and state events and coach referrals,” he told RUGBYMag.com. “With no summer camp in 2011 this was our first opportunity to bring kids together. We expanded the camp to 74 to cast a wider net but need to look at many more players over the next few months.”

Thompson also spread the net over ages, bringing in seniors born in 1993 and 1994, along with players as young as 15, born in 1996.

“This year we'll have competition for Junior Varsity and U17s HSAAs along with our Varsity HSAA team, which is predominantly u18s. The goal is to build depth, and continuity in the HSAA program,” he said.

It takes time, he added, pointing out that USA players Scott Lavalla, Shawn Pittman, Zack Test and Taylor Mokate all went through this process, as did potential Eagles (once they’re done playing football) Nate Ebner, Johnson Bademosi, and Thretton Palamo.

“Players need time to develop and they don't all blossom at the same time,” Thompson explained.

The camp had a wide range of skills, experience and athleticism. They came from Hawaii and California, New Jersey and Massachusetts, and just about every other state in between. In addition, several overseas-based American high-schoolers came from New Zealand, South Africa and the UK to be considered.

Standout players included Titi Lamositele, a 16-year-old prop forward from the Chuckanut club in Ferndale, Wash. (where Pittman came from). He is only 5-10, but at 260 lbs he packs a punch.

Hayward No. 8 Siosifa Fotu and Kona Bulls No. 8 Tama Paogofie out of Hawaii were both big, physical and mobile players.

Fifteen-year-old Malcolm May is one to keep an eye on. The No. 8 is 6-feet, 193 pound No.8 is only a freshman at Ignatius HS Chicago.

Making an impressive camp debut was Mystic River hooker Chris Laughlin, a 5-11, 223-lb senior who had a look at the Mystic senior club and senior Andrew Iscaro, Gonzaga College, was also very good.

The scrumhalf competition was intense with six players all playing very well: Michael Reid, a sophomore from Virginia, and Ben Williams, a senior with the Westerville Worms, Nuulaiti Aiava, a senior from Hilo in Hawaii, the experienced Joe Sullivan, a senior from the Royal Irish School in Indianapolis, Connor Rosenbaum, a senior at Campolindo HS and playing with Lamorinda, and Eric Uganecz, a junior at Westlake Boys HS in Auckland, New Zealand.

One of the best flyhalf prospects is junior Danny Collins, a 6-0, 175 Boston College HS prospect. He might be the top flyhalf but JV player Scott Dean of Liberty HS in Washington is coming on strong.

Versatile Jake Feury, (6-0, 175) of the Morris Rugby Club, in Rockaway, NJ was the fittest in camp and played well at center along with junior Nemia Qoro (5-10, 213) of Peninsula Green, in  California. Albert Takiveikata, is an elusive-running a junior from the Sacramento Islanders Club, while 2011 national high school champions Jesuit produced their solid midfielders in senior Patrick Barrientes, and junior Matt Ternan.

Utah produced the fastest player in Bo Aagard, a 6-1, 210 center from the Lowland Rugby Club, while his clubmate, junior wing Stratton Brown, was the third-fastest.

Splitting the pair was Scottsdale wing, senior Dylan Audsley, (5-10, 180). And the JV team will look to 6-1, 190 center Billy Maggs, a junior from the Mustangs of Del Mar, Calif.

Full back produced a competitive battle between Anthony Salaber (6-4, 204), a senior from Dixon Rugby Club in Northern California, Brad Shaw, (5-9 160) a junior from Columbus RFC in Indiana, and Sam Cowley, a JV prospect from Charlotte Catholic HS in North Carolina.

Thompson seemed enormously impressed with the group as a whole.

“I credit the players for their hard work and commitment. Many competed in their state football playoffs up to and past Thanksgiving, and a few won state championships, yet still reported fitness tests for a month before camp,” he said. “The camp has given us depth charts at each position but we have gaps to fill before HSAA representative play begins in 2012. The HSAA staff will visit a record number of states, collaborating with SBOs to find the best young players aged 15 to 18.”

Thompson ended with a request to cast the net even wider.

“If coaches believe they have players we need to see at the HSAA level, freshmen through seniors, then please work through their SBO HP coaches or contact me directly,” he said.

Salty Thompson can be reached at sthompson@usarugby.org .