Andy Katoa is still coaching, but the team will look a little different between the lines. Back are Jake Bowers, Kai Beech (started at prop on the ‘09 national championship team) and the ageless Merritt Johnson. However, several guys who’ve made plays for Aspen the last couple years will not be back.
Ryan Nichols has still not fully recovered from a knee injury suffered in the fall, Leonard Peters is back home in Hawaii helping support his family and Brian Naqica is not in the picture. But possibly the biggest loss for Aspen is their former 7s captain, Spencer Scott. Scott was one of the seven players who had their transfers to Glendale rescinded in the spring. He has relocated to Denver and will stay on with the Raptors 7s program.
“He has played for me for a long time, and I was responsible for bringing him up here from Oklahoma to play 7s and talked him into staying and helping out with 15s, but that’s a decision he made and we wish him all the best,” said Katoa of Scott. “He’s a hell of a player and we’re going to miss him dearly, but maybe it was good for both of us, because he moved on and we’ve moved on.”
Katoa says the 15s team dropping out of DI competition midseason did affect his efforts, but not the 7s team’s finances.
“It affected us just cause the fact that all the kids that I had, I had a lot of kids plan to come to spend the summer, even the older kids we’ve kind of had for a while, and it got in everybody’s ear that we were not playing 15s, not playing 7s. By the time it got around to me, they were already somewhere else. That affected us, but we were able to salvage some of them,” said Katoa
"Our 7s side the last few years, we’ve always gone after private funding, because our 15s was kind of strapped as it is, with all the traveling that we do because of where we are.”
Some Gentlemen to look out for this summer include a pair of crossover athletes. James Aldridge, the former Notre Dame running back, is going on summer two of playing rugby and doing so in Aspen. He played with NYAC last year and spent time with the Spearhead Academy and in the 7s Eagles camps.
Corey Council, a former Bethune-Cookman running back, is also supposed to play for Katoa. He hasn’t landed in Aspen yet, but National Team coach Al Caravelli seems confident he will.
Tana Afeaki is another gridiron convert, but the BYU football player and former Highland fullback has plenty of rugby experience. He played with Aspen in Las Vegas in February, and he’ll be back in the leaf-clad jersey this summer.
Katoa has a young, inexperienced squad and knows it, but that won’t stop him and the new-look Gentlemen of Aspen from trying to qualify for their fifth-straight trip to Nationals.