As 2012 comes to a close, we'll be running a series of Top 12 of 2012 lists, featuring some of the top photos, players, events and bits of news from the last year. RUGBYMag's official 2012 Awards are chronicled in our November issue.
In our last Top 12 of '12 story, we look at the guys we think have the best chance to earn Eagle caps someday. The majority of our group come from the college and age-grade ranks. They're listed alphabetically.
There are some guys who perhaps deserve to be on the list, like Don Pati, Colton Cariaga, Zac Mizell and Kingsley McGowan, but we kept the list at 12.
We first saw Aiava when he was directing traffic for the High School All Americans 7s team in Las Vegas. Aiava has chutzpa and plenty of leadership acumen, as well. He is small, maybe too small to break through in 15s, but as a 7s player he could be marvelous. He has excellent pace, can sidestep, can defend, and reads the game very well. He should be tracked for a 7s academy soon.
The Dartmouth All American is now playing at Cambridge. And like Derek Asbun and Will Johnson before him, Brakeley will likely go from American college student to Varsity Match alum to Eagle. The National Team is thin at second row, and Brakeley already has the body of an international lock. He also possesses valuable leadership qualities. Look for Brakeley to be an Eagle sooner rather than later.
If he weren’t in school and already had three years of residency under his belt, the South African-raised brother of former Eagle Phil Eloff would most likely already be capped, either in 7s or 15s. The two-time National Champion and finals MVP could play a number of positions in 15s as an Eagle, from flyhalf to center, wing or fullback, and he has all the tools necessary to excel at any of them. He isn’t very big, but he’s solidly built and a tenacious defender. If he becomes a passport holder, he could well be an Olympian in 2016.
The Glendale youngster and U20 player is emerging as one of the most promising young players in the country. He’s just a couple of years out of high school, and he’s already helped Glendale to a second-place finish in DI and the Junior All Americans to a Junior World Trophy. He is a back-three player with electric pace and step.
There are some hookers who seem like extra flankers, and some that are more like mobile props who concentrate on set piece. LSU product Cameron Falcon is that second kind. He has played both hooker and prop for the Junior All Americans, for whom his lineout throwing was virtually perfect. Smart, tough, and powerful, Falcon is now working his way through the ranks at Trinity in Ireland. If he learns what he needs to learn there, he could develop into the next Eagle #2 very quickly.
South African trained and raised, Gericke has expressed the desire to become an Eagle, and he made a step in that direction when he played with USA A at the Americas Rugby Championship. He has the size and pace to play for either the 7s or 15s National Teams, which he most recently showcased at the College 7s National Championships, helping Arkansas State to a title. A center in 15s with the dimensions of an international, he’s deceptively agile and fast.
He has been invited to the 7s National Team camp next month, and he might have gotten his chance a little bit sooner if it hadn’t been for an injury at the end of the summer. A wide-shouldered guy, the Denver Barbarian is arguably the toughest runner on the domestic 7s scene, rivaling guys like Eagle Matt Hawkins and Belmont Shore’s Eric Duechle. His ability to keep his feet in contact and offload is maybe his biggest strength. Hitt also has a bit of gas, though he’s not overwhelmingly fast, and plays with a chip on his shoulder. He could be the injection of toughness the 7s Eagles need.
Like Eloff, this Dartmouth star has all the physical tools and skills in his repertoire. He is even smaller than Eloff, but maybe a touch quicker and faster. He was an integral player on the Junior All American team that won the JWRT, and he’ll likely get a camp invite upon graduation, if not sooner.
He was with the Eagles this summer, traveling to Canada, Houston and Glendale, but the former Xavier and current Cal star hasn’t earned his first cap, yet. He will graduate from Cal within the next couple of years, and, chances are, he’ll earn his first 15s cap sometime within, or shortly outside of, that window. Kelly has a lot of high level rugby under his belt, and the athletic tangibles of an international-caliber center.
An All American at Texas A&M, Leland teamed up with fellow Eagle hopefuls Kyle Hitt and Taylor Howden to take the Denver Barbarians to the Club 7s Semifinals this year. He has good pace, very good change of direction and a nose for the try line. Like Hitt, he has been invited to camp at the Olympic Training Center. Unlike Hitt, Leland also has the attention of Eagle 15s coach Mike Tolkin. He's a bit small for an international center, but he has enough speed to possibly transition to the wing in 15s.
The RUGBY Magazine High School Player of the Year should probably be on this list. The reason he is there is because of the combination of his size, skills, and stepping ability. As he blossoms in the Cal program, Salaber’s ability to run, pass, and kick, combined with his height, could set him up very nicely as a 15s center, or a 7s prop/hooker.
He starred for Salesianum in high school, this summer he played in the Junior World Trophy and on the MARFU All Star 7s team, and he most recently helped Delaware to a third-place finish at the College 7s National Championships. At about 6-2, Thommes has an impressive build that’s accompanied by really good speed for a flanker. He’s already caught the eye of some 7s Academy coaches, and he could wind up playing for the Eagles in both 7s and 15s.