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Tony Fratangelo and Joe Aleki have retired, Mike Te’o is in camp with the Junior All Americans, Ed Pitts is recovering from a torn bicep suffered during summer 7s, and Eric Duechle and Peter Dahl are resting.
Neither Duechle nor Dahl have had much of a break lately, going straight from 15s to 7s to training with the 7s team at the Olympic Training Center. Dahl also participated in the Eagles’ fall tour. Both will make their returns later this month. Pitts is also hoping to take the field before February.
So that leaves Belmont to start the season without half a dozen important players from the spring. But the midfield shouldn’t suffer too much, however, as recent USA A and former U20 center Jack Tracy is set to play his first 15s season with Belmont.
A bruising linebacker in high school and college, Tracy has a build and skill set of a back rower, though he’s played center almost exclusively in high performance setups. Belmont coach Ray Egan, former Munster age grade coach, says Tracy could find some time in the pack, though he’ll start the season in the midfield.
“He has a big frame that he can put on, and obviously he’s such a good defender and such a direct ball carrier. It’s a position that I think could possibly suit him a little bit more than 12,” said Egan of Tracy as a loose forward.
“Twelve, at the higher level, your skill set needs to be like a second five-eighth, and at the moment that’s probably his weakest area. Nothing to say that he can’t learn it, but it’s going to take time.
“There isn’t that much of a transfer, to be fair. It’s only a mindset. A lot of people think it’s a huge difference (between center and back row) and it’s not. The French have been doing it for years – they’ve been switching centers into back rowers and back rowers into centers…It’s nothing that can’t be done. It’s just something that we might see out.”
Fratangelo has commanded Belmont’s deep three for years, and his retirement has left the club with some big shoes to fill. Luckily, 2012 Junior All American Pasefika Iosia (he’s aged out this year) is there to try the emptied cleats on.
“He’s got the skills to play there. Last year was his first year out of [Belmont Shore's U19 program], so the jump was a little bit big for him,” said Egan of Iosia playing fullback. “But he’s got good speed, he’s got good skills. For me, I see him as kind of a replacement for Peter Sio in time.”
Sio, who threatened retirement after winning the 2012 15s title, is back for another season. He will team up Tracy to make a formidable midfield combination.
Belmont also lost big piece of their championship puzzle when Zach Fenoglio moved home to Colorado, where he’s playing with Glendale. With him and Te’o out of the picture, Belmont has lost two of the best young hookers in the country. But Egan says there are some guys graduating from the U19 ranks who can fill in nicely there and across the roster.
And there are still plenty of capable veterans in the mix, like Ed McKenna,
Jake Grubbs, Iopu Sanonu and Sinapati Uiagaleilei, to shepherd the younger