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Teacher meets pupil in a college 15s friendly of interest Friday at the Las Vegas Invitational, as Dan Payne leads defending DI-A National Champion Life against his former team San Diego State – coached by Payne’s former Aztec player Alex Lichtig. It’s the first match of the preseason for both teams. The Aztecs haven’t played at all, and the Running Eagles team that downed Georgia last weekend was JV.

“It’s pretty awesome to be able to play against Dan. He’s obviously one of my coaching mentors,” said Lichtig, whose in his first year as head coach after the departure of Matt Hawkins – now the 7s National Team head man. “Dan kind of put San Diego State back on the map, and his transition to Matt Sherman kept us up there a while, and now we’re trying that again with the new coaching staff.”

“It’s the same with Alex Houser or Matt Sherman or any of those guys as they go on and get to other places – you’re happy for them and proud of them,” said Payne of coaching a former player.

“It’s always enjoyable, because you know the guys across the pitch from you, but I think when the game starts you’re just worried about your own team’s focus. It’ll be neat this week just because I have so many great friends and former players that will be there taking in the weekend with San Diego State.”

Both Life and San Diego State will be fielding young sides Friday. Life graduated Colton Cariaga last spring and Cam Dolan over the winter break. San Diego State hard-nosed forwards Jaime Kelm and Mike Shea.

“It’s a totally different side than last spring – a new group of senior leaders,” said Lichting. “Losing a guy like Jaime Kelm is always tough, but we also have a lot of young guys that are stepping up and they’ll be starting in the a-side lineup ,so it will be interesting and exciting to see those guys play.”

Kalei Konrad is SDSU’s most high-profile returner. The talented young flyhalf spent the fall playing in South Africa.

“He came back sharper than ever, and he’s looking really good,” said Lichtig of Konrad. “He’s definitely one of the leaders on the team, and I’m excited to watch him play, too.”

Ollie Cregg was a big addition for SDSU in 7s in the fall, and he’ll be the same for the Aztec’s deep three this spring. Freshmen Austin Switzer, Jonathan Raby and Dalton Wimmer are expected to be contributors, too.

Likewise, Life will be leaning on veterans No. 8 Glen Maricelli and fullback Joe Cowley this season, though Cowley will be on the bench Friday as Payne tries to give him rest after a busy autumn with the National Team. One big re-addition is loosehead prop OJ Aumatagi, who was lost to a season-ending injury midway through last spring. He partners with Zach Walker in the front row.

“He’s one of our best players I think across our program as a whole, and he’s on the verge of having a really good breakout year,” Payne said of Walker.

Sophomore Talib Clemente, a product of the Las Vegas Rugby Academy, will get the start in his hometown at scrumhalf, and freshman wing Harley Davidson will be relied on for big plays.

If you’re in Las Vegas, you can see this match-up Noon PST field #23 at Star Nursery next to Sam Boyd Stadium.