UPDATE: Nate Augspurger, Martin Iosefo, Shalom Suniula selected as travel replacements.
LAFAYETTE, Colo. – USA Rugby Men’s Sevens Head Coach Mike Friday has selected the 12 athletes and his seven staff to represent Team USA in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The diverse roster includes athletes from across the country, international rugby stars and an NFL Super Bowl Champion.
Rugby was last played in the Olympics by the men in 1924, when the USA won gold in the standard 15-a-side version of the game. This will mark the first time Rugby Sevens will be played in the Olympic Games.
“It’s a huge honor to represent your country at any time in your life, but to be given the responsibility at the Olympic Games – the biggest sporting event on the planet – makes it even more special,” said Friday. “The fact that we will be part of Team USA and that as a result we will be exposing the USA sporting public to another team sport they can engage with and enjoy watching, as well as passionately support their country, is immense.
“The boys fully appreciate the accountability that comes with that responsibility and are looking forward with confidence to those challenges. While we are not the pre-tournament favorites like Fiji who have to play with that expectation, we are a team who are hugely respected and feared by all other countries as genuine contenders. We know that on any given Sunday we have the power, pace and physicality to match and beat anyone. The boys recognize the magnitude of the task but are confident that we can be medal contenders if we play to our ability. We will represent the people of the USA in a way that they expect and deserve, exhibiting the characteristics that will make them proud.”
Team USA will be captained by Madison Hughes who recently became the United States’ all-time leading scorer on the Sevens Series. Hughes, a graduate of Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, also finished as the top-scorer in the 2015-16 HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series.
Hughes is joined by veterans Zack Test, Folau Niua, Danny Barrett, Garrett Bender and Maka Unufe on the roster. All five were regular faces for USA Rugby throughout the 2015-16 season. Friday’s squad also includes the dynamic pairing of Perry Baker and Carlin Isles. Isles has been dubbed “the fastest man in rugby” due to a 100-meter speed that could have qualified him for the Olympics in track and field. Baker, thanks to his own scorching speed, finished the 2015-16 Sevens Series in the top-five in scoring and second in tries scored.
This core group of athletes will be joined by familiar faces Andrew Durutalo and Chris Wyles. Neither Durutalo or Wyles participated in the 2015-16 season, instead playing professionally for clubs in Japan and England, respectively. This past season, Wyles achieved both an England Premiership League and European Cup championship double.
New England Patriot Nate Ebner joins Team USA after receiving his team’s blessing to make a run at an Olympic dream. Ebner was the youngest-ever player to represent the Men’s Sevens at age 17 and continued his rugby career at Ohio State University before joining the football team and subsequently being drafted into the NFL. The youngest member of the team, Ben Pinkelman (22) of Colorado, has progressed through the USA Rugby High Performance ranks and will build off of his career 36 games played.
When asked about his team’s makeup, Friday responded “the squad itself represents the country on so many levels and is cosmopolitan in makeup, which is a true reflection of the country. The team is balanced in terms of physicality, power, X-factor and out-and-out pace. We possess great aerial presence and kickers who are able to exploit these skills. As along with the contact area, we see this as a huge area in the game.
“The squad has some big temperament players within it, and is underpinned by a strong work ethic and relentless approach to stay in any arm wrestle. This is the grit we need to exhibit along with our athletic ability.”
Team USA will continue to train at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista before heading to Florida for a week. During the weeklong training session that includes scrimmages against New Zealand, Team USA will determine their three traveling reserves within the group of Nate Augspurger, Will Holder, Martin Iosefo, Thretton Palamo and Shalom Suniula.