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“Every other guy was 21 years old or younger,” said Hawkins. “Three of them just out of school.”

For a team pumped up in part because of the high-profile names that registered with them, the Aztecs relied as much on a bunch of kids.

“I have been blown away by all of them,” said Hawkins. “These guys have been stepping up and playing some exceptional rugby.”

Obviously having former USA captain Hamilton, current team captain Kelm, and the likes of Justin Boyd, Nick Edwards, Peter Tiberio and Zack Test registered or playing with the team doesn’t hurt. But the younger guys like Kalei Konrad, Mike Shea,  and Noah Maypole have to be good to make the Old Aztecs first in Southern California.

“From our standpoint we wanted to be consistent all season,” said Hawkins. “Didn’t matter what lineup we put out there. We wanted to be consistent and in four tournaments we made four finals, and won two. There’s no other team in SoCal that made more than one final. So I’d say we’ve been a consistent team. Not we go to nationals with the goal to win it.”

Perhaps the toughest thing is that Hawkins will have to make cuts, and likely will have to cut players who helped the Old Aztecs make those finals.

“We had such good numbers that we were able to field a 2nd side and they did really well,” said Hawkins. “We played about 17 guys in the tournaments and we’re going to have to cut that down to 12. Making those cuts will be tough, but we’re in a good place.”

Hawkins himself has been playing a little, but has made it plain that Kelm is the captain on the field.

His presence as a player is important – he’s still big and strong and very experienced.

“I’d like to get rid of that jinx and win a national title,” he laughs.  “Duncan is our leader. Riaan is a leader. Justin Boyd has had to change his role and play more at center and as a forward. That’s been an adjustment for him, but he’s been great. Then when I’m playing we’ve got other guys who do an incredible job keeping the team on track.”

So the former USA captain Hawkins says he sees potential in this San Diego team. It has taken a little time to get them all playing together, but now he’s talking seriously about a title.

“We’re not there yet,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of competitive games in Southern California, better than it’s been in a while, but it’s not the same as the national championships,” Hawkins warned. “And the setup is different. We play five or six games in a day in SoCal and four of them could be really competitive. But still, playing three in a day at nationals will be different – more intense. You are only playing three so you know you can give it everything.”

Hawkins has adjusted his team’s training regimen as a result. He has them training two days in a row, to get used to the two-day tournament in San Francisco.

“We have two weeks between now and then,” he said. “We have some time to get it right. But I could not be prouder of what they’ve done so far.”