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Despite being somewhat isolated from the rest of the USA, Hawaii has contributed almost 20% of the players to the High School All Americans team currently touring South America.
The group includes Fitou Fisiiahi, who captained the HSAA 7s team in England in March, and who is only 17 and just out of his sophomore year. At 6-2, 230 Fisiiahi is an imposing center, who attended Kaiser HS on Oahu and played for the Titans RFC men's team as well. With him are Nu'u Aiava, a scrappy young halfback/utility back who showed all sorts of talent playing 7s for the HSAA team in Las Vegas.
Solomone Anitema is a big, tough prop from Maui. Isaiah Chinen is a tiny scrumhalf with a lot of intelligence from Kona, Tama Paogofie is a 6-3, 245 No. 8 from Kona who is also a very fast, physical, and agile defensive end in football. Vili Kihe Toluta'u is a smooth flanker from Maui.
"All us guys from Hawaii got together between the end of our high school season and now to train together," said Fisiiahi. "We had the training plan from the coaches and we were concerned about maintaining our fitness. I played a lot of volleyball, too. But training together was really good for us."
"They have a good attitude," said David Ma'afu Wendt, who helps run Rugby Hawaii. "The kids all play football, and football's still big here. But to get a chance to represent your country, and go to three different countries you've never been to, that's an amazing opportunity."
Fisiiahi and Aiava were both leaders on somewhat younger teams earlier this year. Now they are taking a slight step back in leadership ... at least for now.
"It was basically an under 17s team playing 7s in England," said Fisiiahi. "Now we're a new group, and I think we're coming together. It will probably take us two or three days to really trust each other. But once that happens, we'll be fine. I am excited about playing different countries and going to South America. It's going to be really different. With all the game we're going to play we need everyone to contribute, which is good because everyone knows he's there to help the team."
Hawaii's youth program is starting to bear fruit, especially as Rugby Hawaii improves its relationship with football coaches in the state. Working with Big Boyz Football, an age-grade 8-14 football league, Wendt said the football coaches try to instill realistic expectations among the kids.
"They tell the kids, of all of you playing, maybe half will play football in high school, and maybe 10-15% will play in college. How many will make the NFL? Maybe one kid. But everyone can play rugby," said Wendt.