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Sometimes it’s the little things that make you sit up and take notice.

In one game for the USA 7s team, at a critical moment, the Eagles had the ball and started attacking through the backs. Out on the wing, Maka Unufe was ready for the pass and started creeping up level with center Mile Pulu. Pulu was slightly held up by the defense, and Unufe quickly changed his speed, fell back, and not only put himself onside, but put himself in a position to, once again, run onto a Pulu pass.

In the Bronze med match against Uruguay, Unufe was set up for the pass, but the pass went behind him. Unflustered, the wing gathered the ball, took a moment to assess what was in front of him, and burst through a gap to score a key try.

Later on he had the ball again with the USA behind and time ticking away. Unufe saw he didn’t have the space to run around the defense, and cut back in, ducking and wriggling until support was there to win the ball from the ruck. From that possession, the Eagles scored the winning try.

Of these three events, only one involved Unufe scoring a try, which is something he did six times at the Pan-Am Games, to lead the tournament. But what they all showed was awareness. He didn’t panic. He avoided the trap of the over-eager young speedster, who runs too fast and gets a forward pass, or tries to avoid contact when it’s inevitable, and therefore loses the game.

In short, he showed us something. He wasn’t perfect. At only 19 he was caught out of position on defense once or twice, but with his astounding speed, and his knowledge of how to stay deep and run onto the ball, he’s a keeper.

“For 19 years old, he’s been just phenomenal,” said USA 7s Head Coach Al Caravelli. “I think he’s a star in the making. I mean a kid like that? He has 2016 and 2020 in his sights. If he does the hard work required to be a world class athlete, and an Olympian; he’s got the God-given athletic ability, and now he just needs to put in that work to blossom into a world-class player.”

“Making this team, it’s crazy, man; it’s fun,” Unufe told “I didn’t know it was going to happen, definitely not this quickly. Without my teammates I wouldn’t have the confidence to do some of these things. I put it all on them.”

Caravelli has had extensive conversions with Unufe, who turned many heads playing for United at the USA National U19 Championships. He says the teenager had the right attitude and will continue to work on his game. But right now, he made an outstanding start – leading the Pan-Am Games in tries, and showing a good head for space and timing. It’s all, says Caravelli, in his hands now.