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Mike Friday has selected four players for his 13-man traveling squad for the HSBC Sevens World Series opener in Dubai who are hoping to earn their first international 7s appearance – Anthony Welmers, Kevon Williams, Alec Gletzer and Don Pati. All four have winning pedigrees and are products of some of the country’s best collegiate programs.

Williams led New Mexico Highlands to back-to-back NSCRO 7s national titles in 2015 and 2016, while also starring on the club circuit for the Denver Barbarians. Welmers is a first-team 7s All-American from Davenport, and he’s helped Army win the last two Armed Services titles at Serevi RugbyTown Sevens. Gletzer, also an All-American, is the only capped 15s Eagle in the bunch. He helped Cal win multiple Penn Mutual Collegiate Rugby Championship titles.

Those three are all recent graduates, with their call-ups coming in relatively short order. For the fourth, Don Pati, it’s seemed like a longer time coming.

Pati burst onto the national scene, much like 7s as a whole, in 2010 with the emergence of the Penn Mutual Collegiate Rugby Championship. Much of the credit for the Utes claiming that first title went to Thretton Palamo, who’s been capped numerous times in 7s and 15s since. But it was Pati who broke free to score the game-winning try in overtime of the inaugural final to upset Cal.

The next year, with Palamo focusing on football, Pati led the Utes back to the CRC semifinals, beating Cal again in the quarterfinals. They then fell by a single try to eventual champion Dartmouth, but Pati again lit up the tournament as one of the standout players. He’d continue as Utah’s best for another couple of years, playing some representative rugby as an All American.

In 2014 he was picked for the USA Falcons at the Serevi Rugbytown Sevens, playing alongside Perry Baker, Pat Blair, Andrew Durutalo, Ryan Matyas, Marcus Satavu, Pila Taufa and Maka Unufe, all capped 7s Eagles. They’d go on to win the tournament, and Pati showed well, but he still had some holes in his game that prevented him from taking the next step.

“We saw him two years ago and they were playing him as a center. He’s not quick enough to play that role,” said Eagles assistant coach Chris Brown.

“He can cover it, but as an out and out center, like a Maka Unufe or a Martin Iosefo, he’s just a step behind them, but he is extremely quick off the mark, which is more your playmaker role because you’re closer to the defense line. When we saw him, his catch and pass skills were not up to standard to play those playmaker roles.”

Pati kept knocking on the door, moving to the Bay Area and lacing up in 15s for San Francisco Golden Gate. But he’d return to Salt Lake City at a serendipitous time, when Rugby Utah was emerging. The new body was developed to help bridge the gap between senior club rugby and high performance in one of the nation’s most talent-rich states, which is exactly what Pati needed.

He, along with an array of fellow former All Americans from BYU and Utah, filled up a star-studded roster for Rugby Utah’s first 7s season this summer. The squad stormed through the country’s toughest qualifying region, taking two of three Frontier tournaments and the top seed to Nationals, where they’d virtually blowout everyone en route to the national title.

Having won three of the most prestigious and entrenched 7s tournaments on offer in the United States – the CRC, Serevi RugbyTown Sevens and Club 7s nationals – Pati got another shot, and this time as a halfback.

“The work he’s done on his pass, it’s blatantly clear, night and day compared to two years ago. And he’s still got those feet, and his voice, which is probably the most important part – he’s a clear communicator – which allows him to kind of come into this 12 and play, hopefully, a quality role,” said Brown.

“He’s trimmed up. He’s stuck on his own in Utah, and he’s done a lot of work, and you can just see the difference between him and a lot of the other players that are training remotely, just how much he wants this.

“He’s done really, really well in this last two camps that he’s been in. The time on the ball, the tempo that he has and the ability to bring two defenders together to create space for somebody else has been quite outstanding.”

With Nate Augspurger focusing on 15s and Mike Te’o and Shalom Suniula apparently having moved on as well, the competition for the backup halfback slot appears to be down to two players – Pati and Stephen Tomasin – at least for now. This first leg of Dubai and Cape Town marks the opening round of that battle.