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The Eagles squad set to defend home turf Saturday and Sunday at Silicon Valley 7s is very experienced, with just two uncapped players in the side. Most of those Team USA vets have been in the system so recently their ceremonial first caps would probably still have the stickers on them. That’s not the case for Ryan Matyas, whose would likely be covered in dust somewhere tucked in a suitcase.
His last appearance with the 7s national team came in 2014 under then-head coach Matt Hawkins. Since, Matyas has logged a lot of miles and pulled on a lot of different jerseys. Now he’s making his debut under current skipper Mike Friday.
The former Arizona star earned his first cap in the 2013/2014 season opener in Gold Coast, Australia. Leading to that opportunity was his first big break, as he helped the All-Americans win the Serevi Rugbytown Sevens just a few months prior. There he played alongside Madison Hughes, Stephen Tomasin, Pat Blair and Garrett Bender, all of whom have been more consistently engaged in the national team setup since.
Hawkins, in an effort to infuse some youth into the program, folded many of those All-Americans into the national team at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif. Matyas earned a full-time contract for that season, garnering selection to six tournaments before suffering an injury between the Glasgow and London stops.
With Hawkins out and Friday in at season’s end, Matyas didn’t receive a second contract offer, but USA Rugby high performance director Alex Magleby kept him at arm’s length, helping set up an opportunity to play in New Zealand, as Magleby himself had done as a player.
“My conversation with Friday when I left was I just needed to play more,” recalled Matyas. “I had speed and strength, I just needed to work on my skills, and that’s why I went down to New Zealand.”
So Matyas took off to play for the East Coast Bays, and it wasn’t long before he was pulled into the North Harbour setup, playing the top level of domestic 7s on offer in New Zealand. As an already capped American, he was unable to suit up for nationals there, but he helped North Harbour qualify.
At the end of the 7s campaign, which runs during the winter months in New Zealand, he spent the 15s season on North Harbour’s training squad. He came back to the States that summer and returned to Rugbytown, this time playing for Negro y Azul, and he suited up for the Northeast ODA and at Elite City 7s before getting in a few 15s games with Old Blue and returning to New Zealand for a second 7s season. He also spent many of the gaps between adventures back home in Arizona training with HSAA coach Salty Thompson.
“I still wanted to develop. [Former 7s All Black] Geoff Alley was a really great coach, so I wanted to go down there and work with him again and do another season. Even though I didn’t get to play nationals, I still got to play regionals and all the other tournaments,” said Matyas.
“We’re playing against the Ioane brothers, we’re playing against another All Black coming through, Jack Goodhue. We’re playing against Wellington, Waikato, so getting high level 7s competition.”
In January he got the chance to play for another former All Black, USA 15s head coach John Mitchell, who invied him to take part in the inaugural Americas Rugby Championship. He earned three caps that tournament before returning to San Diego to play for Hawkins, this time as a Breaker in PRO Rugby. After PRO’s lone season and three more caps during the June tests, he started to think a career in 15s might be on offer.
“For me, it was a really big positive being in a full-time 15s environment, and I learned a ton,” Matyas said of the summer of 2016.
He would return to Old Blue before being selected for the ARC earlier this year, after which Friday brought him back to Chula Vista. Matyas competed for selection for the final four tournaments last season, but he never got the nod.
“I just needed time in the system to get that structure and get that pattern down and really get comfortable with it,” he said.
That long, winding road has led him to this weekend, where he’ll play 7s for the USA once more after a nearly three-year hiatus.
“I’m a different player now just as far as experience and understanding. My development, it wasn’t a traditional route of development. I didn’t do the High School All-Americans to the Collegiate All-Americans where I stayed in that kind of pathway and stayed in college to men’s, it was kind of a different pathway, but that journey itself was a unique journey,” Matyas said. “I’m just thankful to Coach Friday for the opportunity.”
Matyas isn’t done hopping codes, either, as he was named to the 15s team’s November Tour to Germany and Georgia.
“With my size and speed and fitness, I can do both. I don’t have to really cycle on to get really big to play 15s, and I don’t have to drop a bunch of weight to play 7s. I’ve been that same weight for 7s and 15s. That transition isn’t hard for me. As a back, being on the 7s team, catching high balls, my sprint endurance, my lines of running, my passing, that helps me as well for 15s. So, it’s not like I’m a forward where I’m losing anything.”
As for what Matyas’ preference would be, 7s or 15s, he is attacking that question the same way he’s attacked the last few nomadic years – “I’m just playing what’s in front of me.”