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The path from All American to Eagle is well trodden, and it's the one Tim Stanfill, who is slated to start his second test in a row Saturday against Tonga, took. The path's usually direct. Many All Americans, like Seamus Kelly, Will Holder and Madison Hughes, actually earn caps while still in college, but Stanfill had to take a detour.
The Central Washington alum was a two-time 7s All American, making the first two teams in 7s All American history in 2011 and 2012. His senior year, he was an honorable mention for the 15s All Americans. From that spring to this fall, his career went largely quiet. He helped Seattle Old Puget Sound Beach win back-to-back club 7s titles but was overshadowed by several Eagles and internationals on those teams.
During that two-year period, his college teammate, Pat Blair, became the first-ever Central Washington Wildcat to earn a cap when he played for the 7s Eagles. But Stanfill, the guy who won tournament MVP at the 2011 USA Rugby College 7s National Championship, where Central came up five points short of a national title at the end of overtime in the final, seemed to be getting no traction with either national team.
Stanfill got called up to his first Eagle camp Oct. 4, and he was named to USA's Select XV for the Americas Rugby Championship a few days later. In that competition he scored two tries in each of his starts against Canada A and Uruguay. That performance earned him a spot on the Eagles' November tour.
Stanfill wasn't originally on the USA roster for the All Blacks Nov. 1, but Troy Hall was a gameday scratch due to questions surrounding his eligibility, and Stanfill took his place, coming on in the second half to earn his first cap. A week later, Stanfill got his first start for the Eagles, scoring a try in the 27-17 defeat of Romania in Bucharest.
"He's got a knack for scoring tries. He'll be quiet for 30 mintues and then all of a sudden end a game with some turnover, then he calls for a ball to get kicked through behind and he chases it down and scores a great try," said Tony Pacheco, Stanfill's coach at Central Washington and the 7s All Americans.
"It's just what he's about. I think you kind of saw some of that in the ARC. He's got a knack for scoring tries, and if you can do that on the test level, you're going to keep getting picked."
The two years of high performance-free rugby Stanfill experienced could see someone lose interest, maybe move on with their life and put rugby on the back burner. It could turn a guy sour, but not Stanfill.
"It took a little bit longer, but I think that I'm a lot more mature, I'm a lot more calm and poised. Whereas, before I was going in with that chip on my shoulder, and I had something to prove," said Stanfill.
"It just made me work harder. Had I got it right out of college, who knows what would have happened. This made me really grind and work and really perfect things I wasn't very strong at. I could have went in with the skill level I had and flopped and never got another chance. Really, it's a blessing I got it now as opposed to earlier, because I got to work on the things I really needed to work on."
What Stanfill described has happened before. It kind of happened to his Seattle teammate, John Cullen, who's earning his second cap and first start at lock Saturday. Cullen was a 2013 All American. He toured Europe with the Eagles that year and didn't see any time. Rumor has it, he was upset to not get on the field, and that sentiment turned off the coaching staff.
Cullen didn't get another shot at a cap for almost a year, maybe becuase the Eagles are unprecedentally deep in the second row, or maybe because of the rumored dust-up with the coaching staff. Either way, Cullen is back in the mix now, and he and Stanfill are two of six Seattle Saracens on the November Tour. Lou Stanfill, Shalom Suniula, Olive Kilifi and Matt Trouville are also earning caps this fall. Trouville and Suniula are starting against Tonga, and USA forwards coach Justin Fitzpatrick coaches Seattle.
The Emerald City has become a soft landing spot for many - former professional players looking to spread their coaching wings, like Fitzpatrick, Ben Gollings and Waisale Serevi, up-and-comers like Kilifi, Tim Stanfill and Cullen, Eagle veterans looking to stay sharp between assemblies, like Suniula and Lou Stanfill, and even the odd foreigner trying to break in, like Trouville.
For every Seattle guy who makes it to the team, though, there's another guy left sitting at home trying to make it, too - Miles Craigwell, Mike Shepherd and Shane Moore, to name a few.
"Personally, sitting behind [Seattle's Eagles] for this last two years has really allowed me to work harder and learn from those guys to help get me to this level," said Stanfill.
"It's great to have those sort of people to look up to and learn from. It's great for the club when we have a couple of guys go off and do this, and we can bring stuff back to the club. And also it pushes the guys that are a little bit lower on the chopping block."
The Eagle chopping block will soon be the source of a lot of disappointment as the 2015 World Cup approaches. After this month, the team won't assemble again until July, so for many, including Stanfill and Cullen, this tour is the last chance to make an impression on the coaching staff before preliminary player pools are designated for England.