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Six of the 12 players selected for the opening stretch of the upcoming HSBC Sevens World Series by Mike Friday have college football experience, which ties for the most in the modern era of the 7s Eagles, since Team USA started playing in every tournament on the Series. It might well be an all-time record.
Zack Test joined the Oregon football team as a preferred walk-on wide receiver in 2007. Though he never played a snap of football as a Duck, he still spent time in a BCS program before transferring to Loughborough to pursue rugby and eventually becoming the most-capped 7s Eagle of all time.
Kevin Swiryn went to St. Mary’s on a football scholarship in 2013 and worked his way into the starting lineup as a receiver before the school dropped its program in 2004, prompting him to pick up rugby. Swiryn went on to captain the 7s team under Al Caravelli before going overseas for 15s and retiring due to injury. He’s obviously back, now.
Garrett Bender first attended DII St. Cloud State in Minnesota on a football scholarship as a linebacker. He eventually switched to rugby and rose to prominence on the club scene with the Youngbloodz of Minneapolis. He made his first appearance on the 7s circuit in New Zealand in 2012.
Carlin Isles is best known as a track convert, as he qualified for the 2012 Olympic Trials and sprinted professionally, but he also played DII football at Ashland University in Ohio. He also signed a futures contract with the Detroit Lions after rising to rugby fame, though he never actually suited up in the league.
Perry Baker has the longest gridiron resume, having played at FCS Fairmount State, signing with the Philadelphia Eagles as an undrafted free agent before getting injured, and spending a couple of years in the Arena Football League. He stormed onto the Series last season and has become an automatic selection for Friday.
Brett Thompson played BCS-level football at Arizona. He walked on as a linebacker in 2009 and spent two seasons with the gridiron Wildcats before returning full-time to rugby. He spent last season playing professionally overseas.
The only other team to carry as many players with major college football experience was Matt Hawkins’ at the end of the 2013/2014 season. It included Test, Thompson, Isles and Bender, as well as Mike Palefau and Nu’u Punimata, both of whom played football at the FBS and junior college levels. Palefau played defensive back and ran track at Snow College and Southern Utah, and Punimata was a linebacker at UTEP after Mount San Antonio College.
That team carried six football guys for just the London tournament, as Punimata was brought in as injury cover after the Scotland event. So, for all intents and purposes, Friday’s current squad for Dubai and South Africa includes the largest contingency of those with high-level football experience.
If you include Will Holder and Maka Unufe, both of whom were decorated prep footballers certainly recruited to play college ball, eight of the 12 are of that ilk. Unufe was a highly touted high school football player, but academics prevented him from moving onto a BCS program, and he made a run at professional football on a furlough from rugby. Holder was recruited to West Point as a linebacker before returning to rugby.