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Ahmad Harajly is set to make his international debut this weekend at Wellington 7s in New Zealand. His addition to the Eagles roster was one of two changes, and by far the most surprising, for the fourth stop of the HSBC Sevens World Series.
Hrajly made his way out to USA Rugby’s open tryout at the United States Olympic Training Center last month, mostly with the goal of turning the heads of the 15s National Team coaches. He impressed everyone, and the 7s staff enough to earn one of two invites to stick around the following week for the 7s high performance camp. Having known him for two weeks, head coach Mike Friday thought enough of Harajly to pick him for Wellington.
“He’s not a gimmick story, far from it,” Friday said of Harajly. “I’m taking him because he earned the right to come in the week’s training and in the combine and the way that he conducts himself, the way he’s bought in, and the way he goes about his business and his behaviors in the culture. He earned the right, and he turned heads when we played the scrimmages.”
Harajly has been playing rugby for years, starting in high school in suburban Detroit. Most recently, he’s been playing center with the DII Detroit Tradesmen. Not only does he not have international experience and only limited domestic club experience, he’s practically a 7s virgin, having played little throughout his young career.
“The reality is this kid’s based up in Detroit, in an area where there’s nowhere for him to play,” said Friday. “He’d never actually been in the eye or had the opportunity to be seen and play.”
Might be harsh words for those in the Detroit rugby scene to swallow, but it’s true, especially in 7s. There hasn’t been a DI men’s club in the state of Michigan since 2012, no team from the Motor City has ever played in Club 7s Nationals, and a team from the Great Lake State hasn’t reached 7s nationals since 2005.
This is the second guy Friday’s open mind has helped lure out of relative obscurity this season. Martin Iosefo, a Hawaiian going to school in Montana, earned his first cap in Dubai in December. Under previous regimes, these guys wouldn’t have been given the same opportunities.
What to expect of Harajly, who stands about 6’3” and weighs in at around 210 pounds?
“He’s a rangy runner. He’s very athletic. He’s not top end in his speed, but aerially he’s good. He’s a strong, hard runner. He’s a good tackler, but the big things about him, which I noticed in the camp, is obviously he’s still got some rough edges – he’s still got to learn the game – but he picks things up so quickly,” said Friday.
“He’s a mixture of Danny [Barrett] and [Andrew Durutalo]. He’s got Danny’s kind of athletic ability, but he’s a bit more that kind of hard runner like Dru is.
“He’s not top-end gas, he’s not one of the quicker boys. But he will do a lot of the unseen work. He’s got a good skill set, so he’s able to link players and plays together, and he’s a good, competent defender, and he’s a bright player, which means he’ll learn the systems quickly and he’ll make good decisions once he understands what decisions he needs to make. There’s immense potential with him.”
Harajly will likely get clean-up minutes Wellington, and when the Eagles return to Las Vegas next week, he'll move to the Falcons squad playing in the Las Vegas Invitational's elite division to get more playing time.