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Andy Katoa coaching Aspen

Former 7s National Team staffer Andy Katoa has been named Tonga's head 7s coach. Katoa, most recently helping with the High School All Americans and the University of Arizona, served as team manager under Eagles head men Al Caravelli and Alex Magleby, and he was the long-time coach of Aspen’s 7s program.

“I’m pretty excited to get the opportunity to go back to Tonga and take over the 7s program,” Katoa told Rugby Today.

A native Tongan, Katoa moved to California for high school and earned a football scholarship at BYU. He finished college at Southern Oregon before being drafted by the San Diego Chargers in 1991.

Katoa was largely responsible for the development of some of the Eagles’ crossover projects, most notably Carlin Isles. After spending just one summer with Katoa in Aspen, Isles made the National Team. Katoa was also instrumental in the development of Eagles Leonard Peters and Maka Unufe, as well as Pila Taufa, who's currently contracted at the Olympic Training Center.

Talent identification has long been a strength of Katoa’s, and he’s looking forward to the challenge of finding future stars for Tonga, no matter where they ply their trade now.

“I’ve been given the opportunity to get kids from New Zealand and Australia, and I’ll definitely take advantage of that. With a mixture of our local kids, it’s going to be a good group of talent,” said Katoa. “A lot of it is player indentification – getting out there and finding the kids. All you’ve got to do is look at Super Rugby, and you look at the names, and you know where they’re coming from.”

Katoa is just the second American to be named head coach of another country’s National Team. Caravelli took over as the head man for the Philippine 7s team in 2012 and guided the Volcanoes through the 2013 7s World Cup. But Tonga, which makes a yearly visit on the IRB 7s World Series, is the most high-profile rugby nation to hire an American as head coach.

Katoa’s first task will be leading the team at the Oceania 7s Championship Oct. 3-4 in Australia, where Tonga is matched up with host Australia, Samoa and New Caledonia in Pool C. Tonga will likely make at least one appearance on the World Series circuit this season. They’ve played in Wellington for five-straight years and have appeared in at least one tournament each season for the last decade.

“Our short-term goal right now is to try to get back in as a core team on the IRB circuit. We’re looking at realistic goals, and in that process we have to do well in the Oceania Games,” said Katoa. “The majority of the kids have been down there training, and I’ve got to select my team, so I’m really excited to get that going.”