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For every Chris Wyles or Mike Hercus, you can get someone who doesn’t have his heart in it, or is just looking for a cap or some national team interest to help contract negotiations.
The players' skills differ, also. There are American-qualifier players from overseas who are good, and often have their abilities accentuated by being made a focal part of a domestic club’s attack plan, and there are some who are really, really good even when they are asked to be unselfish.
So it is with that kind of trepidation that people look at Preston Bryant. The former Zimbabwe U20 player, Bryant drew the ire of some in Zimbabwe because he shifted from that country to South Africa as he was recruited for the South African 7s Academy.
Paid to be in the South African system, Bryant apparently harbored a different rugby goal.
He started following USA star Paul Emerick on Twitter. He sent a note to Emerick, who found out more about Bryant's background and asked him why an American was in the South African 7s academy. Check out the Eagles, said Emerick, and he put Bryant in touch with USA 7s Head Coach Alex Magleby.
Emerick might have been thinking he was taking a shot in the dark. Little did he know that Bryant is an American through and through. Bryant's father is American and he has always held US citizenship; his parents are divorced, and his father now is a lawyer and sports agent in Colorado. Preston stayed with his mother in Zimbabwe where rugby is king. But he also followed American sports closely. According to his dad, Mark Bryant, Preston and his brothers play in a fantasy football league, with the loser having to tote around a Barbie (TM) doll all year.
"He lives red, white, and blue," said Mark Bryant. "When he heard he might be able to play for the USA, he was just really excited."
The 19-year-old Bryant is a big (6-1, 200), hard-running player is now in the USA 7s team camp in Chula Vista, and he looks to pan out as a potential forward or possibly center in 7s. He has already had extensive 7s training in the South African 7s academy, and has showcased some excellent offload skills, especially out of contact.
He appears to be one of those players who is always looking to pass while he beats defenders, and he can tackle.
For the 2010-2011 school year, Bryant was awarded the St. John's Cross while at school in Zimbabwe. The award is given to athletes who have shown great accomplishment in their sport for their school, and outside their school. When Zimbabwe qualified for the 2012 Junior World Ruby Trophy, Bryant was the team’s outstanding player. However, he didn’t follow them to Utah for the JWRT, as he was in the 7s academy by then.
So he has the skills, and the accolades, and he is young, and smart. And he is an American. His dad says he desperately wants to play for the Eagles.
"Growing up an American overseas can make you less patriotic, or more, and for Preston it was more," said Mark Bryant.
A quick look at Bryant’s Facebook page will give some insight: He describes himself as an American, Zimbabwe raised. But more obvious than that is the photo he posts – an image of the US Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, with a caption – “Amazing Awaits.”
Amazing could be found in the OTC, most certainly. Bryant is an excellent pickup for the USA team. But he will find that rugby in America, even at the highest level, isn’t easy. After a history of playing for top schools and academies in southern Africa, Bryant will have to come into American rugby with an open mind as well as open-ended enthusiasm.