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Canadian National Team studs John Moonlight and Phil Mack are gone, as are former Redskins running back Yamar Washington and Life stalwarts Mark Aylor and Nathan Rogers. The only three original Exiles returning this year are Brian Guillen, Chris Slater and Colby Kreft.
But the cupboard is certainly not bare, as the Exiles have wrangled in numerous All Americans and one high-profile international.
Current or former All Americans playing for the Exiles include Zac Mizell (Arkansas State), Steyn Benade (Arkansas State), Garrett Lambert (Life), Chris Parker (Texas A&M) and Chris Saint (Penn State).
Also joining are two more Texas A&M Aggies and Texas’ Eric Luikens. Luikens was named to RUGBYMag’s All-Tournament team for the 2012 CRC. He was the Longhorn who intercepted a Cal pass for the lone Texas try in the CRC quarterfinals.
The high-profile international is Sam Campbell, a former Welsh U18 player.
Also joining the Exiles is Curtis Chaffin, a former Dallas Harlequin, Aspen and West all-star player. He, along with Benade and Mizell, made up much of the Quins’ 7s core last summer.
Last year, the Exiles flew in the likes of Aylor, Rogers, Mack and Moonlight the week preceding a tournament. This year, all of the Exiles are living in the Houston area and training together.
“We want the kids that are here all summer. If we make it to Nationals, which that’s our goal, to make it to Nationals. If we make it, our biggest thing is to bring those kids out to celebrate the hard work they’ve done all summer,” said Exiles creator and coach David Pope.
“I would love to have everybody back from last year, but it just doesn’t fit the same mold. Flying people in, I don’t think that’s the way you build stability and build a club.”
Every member of the Exiles is working a summer internship or job facilitated by Pope, and many are doing so for an Exiles sponsor, like Halliburton, Intergy or UPS.
Pope said he’s talking to some Eagles, too, but won’t disclose who they are or speak about them until they arrive in the Houston area.
In addition to strong financial backing from the above sponsors, and the Texas National Guard, the Exiles have worked with the Economic Development Partnership of The Woodlands as well as secured a quality training venue in The Woodlands Christian Academy.
“They’ve never opened up their football stadium to anyone else, but because of their graciousness and their ability to see what we’re doing, they’ve allowed our players to use their facilities,” Pope said.
The Exiles kick their season off at Bloodfest in Austin, Texas Saturday, and they could well close it out at Nationals in San Francisco the first weekend of August.