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High School All American Head Coach Salty Thompson said goodbye to over 100 players as his winter camp wrapped up Tuesday in Tempe, Ariz.

For Thompson and the program, this is the beginning of a busy 2014 that includes a trip to the Las Vegas Invitational again, a tour of the U17s to Portugal and France in April, and another summer tour.

“We have the 7s in Las Vegas coming up really quick, so we have work to do,” said Thompson, who put in a lot of 7s work in the week-long camp.

New at this camp was a bigger dedication to tactical awareness. Normally, at this level, coaches are still teaching skills, but Thompson said the players are coming in somewhat more skilled thanks to their coaches at home, and he asked more of them tactically, as a result.
“The younger players have some skills but they are really more unaware of tactics,” Thompson said. “In our 1st scrimmage, our JV forwards would just smash it up right into defenders, because that’s how they’ve grown up with sports.”

Things got better, though, and during the three periods of 20 minutes the JV played against the varsity on the final day, the two teams were tied after the first period.

“Over the last ten years our fundamental skills are way better, but we’re racing with the rest of the world,” said Thompson. “Our catch and pass is much better, but our kicking still needs a lot of work. In physical aspects of the game we can be really good, but we still need work on 9s and 10s.”

There are some exciting players coming up. On the JV side, Brian Nault of Shelton (Wash.) looked solid at No. 8. Lock Liam Jimmon was the youngest kid at camp last year, and has come back a monster. Fallbrook Steven Branham played well, and Gonzaga prop John Iscaro also showed potential.

Most interesting might be Cale Williams, a scrumhalf out of New York who is small, but somehow squirms his way out of trouble and commands the forwards well.
As for the returning players, Calvin Whiting continues to be a leader, while Seth Halliman, a 6-2 center from Glendale, is another solid midfielder. Siaosi Mahoni at lock (Peninsula Green) and Danville No. 8 Vili Helu were exactly what Thompson likes to see.

And the HSAA team is bring the size that U20s assistant coach Mike Engelbrecht said is needed – Justin Allen is 6-10 and Mahoni is 6-7, while Andy Naylor (Prince William) and Chase Bixby (Granite Bay) are both 6-6.

Hanco Germishuys is another player with size, power, and increasing rugby knowledge.

This camp welcomed its first player from Kentucky. Wes Parker was a No. 8 on a Kentucky all-star team that won its first regional all-star game this past summer. Thompson was impressed with Parker.

“He was new to it all but every day just got better and better,” said Thompson. “We were happy to get someone from Kentucky just to let those players know the door is open, that there’s a pathway. But we also have Wes, who might have been playing football, now thinking rugby.”

Many of these players will get more training in the Eagle Impact Academies. One is in Southern California, one in Washington, and more to open up. The EIA in Indiana will tour around the state, holding sessions at different universities, which will give the college coaches a chance to do some recruiting, and keep costs down for the academy.

More than that, though, Thompson wants to see the players continue to develop.

“We get guys into that type of environment and they will build on what they’ve done here,” he said. “We don’t want them to plateau.”