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The program has 15 one-year contracts available, with the players getting basically entry-level pay. Players will certainly need to take on extra part-time work to make ends meet, but they will be provided with health insurance and meals.
The US Olympic Committee will help them find low-cost housing near the OTC (which a lot of athletes of different sports use), but rent or mortgage is the player’s responsibility.
Still it’s a huge step forward for the players, who before would be lucky to clear $10,000 playing for both the 7s and 15s team. Which players will take that step forward is being decided now.
In a poll, RUGBYMag.com readers overwhelmingly voted for the team going with youth – players who can be molded for the 2016 Olympic Games. That seems very likely given the selection decisions USA Coach Al Caravelli has made lately.
Shalom Suniula is moving to San Diego, and would be a big surprise if he doesn’t get a contract. Similarly, some other young players who Caravelli has given responsibility as well as playing time to, such as Zack Test, and Tai Enosa, look automatic.
Given his development of late, Miles Craigwell has a good shot, and so too do players like Colin Hawley, Blaine Scully, and Mark Bokhoven.
In the backs, if Folau Niua keeps improving, he could well get a contract also.
Meanwhile, Nick Edwards doesn’t live in the USA at present and seems like he won’t be moving anytime soon. Nese Malifa? A year ago he would have been an automatic choice. He has plenty of time to come back into the mix.
The big question-marks fall into five categories:
The injured. Mile Pulu, Roland Suniula, Scully and Paul Emerick are all hurt, but all should be back soon. Emerick, while at the high end of the age range at 31, has some rugby left in him and could be the exception to the youth rule. It would seem short-sighted to leave out a player who is injured at present.
The forwards. No one seems to be an automatic in the forwards, except perhaps Test. Matt Hawkins, Mark Bokhoven, Andrew Durutalo and Nu’u Punimata (as well as Scully and Colin Hawley) represent a combination of established players and hopefuls. What balance is best to strike?
The others. Caravelli has a bunch of young guys to think about. Maka Unufe seems a no-brainer; so does Rocco Mauer. But personal issues could keep them from moving. Mike Palefau is proving himself a player to consider, but job and family keep him in Utah. Greg Ambrogi’s business will make it hard to move, while Garrett Bender is perhaps more free.
So we will see some of these players make a decision yes, and others make a decision no.
The football players. Nate Ebner and Johnson Bademosi are the first names that come to mind because they are seniors at Ohio State and Stanford, respectively. Both have a shot at pro football, or might look to rugby instead.
Military:Every year players come out of the military academies who could be good enough to make a national team camp. But they have military commitments first. Is it possible Caravelli might have a few in the right position - stationed in San Diego or whose job allows them to train.
It looks like Caravelli will go with youth, as the RUGBYMag readers want him to. He will possibly keep a place for an older leader, and possibly keep a space open for one of the players coming out of football programs.
But the list will also depend greatly on the ability of the players involved to move to San Diego and to commit to a full-time training environment. It’s a decision players in 15s and 7s make every day – being a professional athlete in most sports means giving up careers, taking time away from family, and not becoming a millionaire – and some choose amateur rugby at home rather than semi-professional rugby somewhere else.