A lot has been made of the turnover in Belmont Shore's roster between the 2011 and 2012 7s National Championships, and for good reason. Nine of the 11 players on the 2012 team are new. Gone are all the capped Eagles, but helping Belmont to a second-consecutive National Title are two former age-grade players that have recently been out of the limelight for starkly different reasons.
Jack Tracy and Eric Duechle both represented the United States in 2008, Tracy at the Junior World Championships in Wales with the U20s and Duechle as an All American from Air Force. Not since then has either gotten close to another National Team camp or call up.
Tracy pursued college football and played at a Southern California community college, but followed into a bad path for a few years, which led him away from rugby altogether.
"I got involved with some (stuff), got in trouble with some stuff. It's been a long time working my way back here," said Tracy, who admits to picking struggling with drugs and alcohol while playing football.
"I got my life back together in January. I trained all season for this."
Tracy quit playing rugby for three years, picked up and kicked a substance abuse habit and, as soon as he got clean, came back to rugby. Mere months after doing so, he was integral in Belmont Shore's National Title run, scoring two tries off the bench in the tournament final.
"I'm so stoked. This is cool. I'm just happy to be back playing, but this is awesome," said Tracy after winning the title Sunday. "This whole group of guys, it makes it that much sweeter, for sure. People were kind of ragging on us at the beginning of the year, 'They lost a lot of players here,' and they were like we're a bunch of nobodies, so that makes it a little sweeter."
“I am glad to see Jack back playing,” added High School All Americans Head Coach Salty Thompson, who coached Tracy with the USA U20s, and whose wife, Beth, was one Tracy confided in during his troubles. “He is not a flashy player, but he has so much strength. You could say strength is his strength; he challenges defenses to stop him.”
Eric Duechle continued playing rugby after college, but not on any teams that would have showcased what he brings to the table as an extremely talented, 6-5, 250-plus athlete who moves like a wing.
"I played for PAC. They were kind of in a rebuilding season when I showed up, and I played a lot for the Armed Forces. I've been playing rugby, but this is a premier team, and I've been getting seen," said Duechle.
"I feel like the last three or four years before I came to Belmont, I didn't get better. But the last year I've learned so much about rugby with coach (Ray) Eagan and Gavin (Hickie). I feel like I've learned so much, and the last few years were just stagnant, so I feel like my rugby has just grown in bounds and leaps."
Duechle, who recently reached the rank of Captain in the Air Force, has been reinvigorated by his success with Belmont and wants to take rugby as far as he can.
"I've never really won anything outside of Air Force stuff. It feels great," he said. "I want to be an Olympian in 2016. Make sure you tell Alex Magleby that."
Just 26, Duechle is in the right age range to be thinking about the Olympics, and he certainly has the physical stats to become an Olympic-level player. So does Tracy, just 24.
It's good for Belmont Shore that these two sleeping giants came back to high-level rugby at the same time. And it could be good for American rugby as a whole.