Arkansas State All American Zac Mizell still has one more semester of college left, even though he’s out of rugby eligibility, so Jonesboro, Ark. was calling his name this fall. That was, until Eagles 7s coach Matt Hawkins picked up the phone and interrupted. Now, as reported on our premier side, Mizell is heading to the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista for what equates to a three-month trial with the National Team.
Mizell makes the move Saturday and is going to stay on campus at the OTC and will receive a monthly stipend until December. He’ll be joining Mike Ziegler of Bowling Green, 1823 and Tiger Rugby, who arrived earlier this week. Pat Blair, another 7s All American, is also relocating to San Diego. More are likely there already or expected to follow.
Hawkins wants to build the overall training squad at the OTC to over 20 players so as to create depth, competition and a second side that will participate in three non-World Series tournaments. He’s hoping to do more than just get a look at players, too. Having been in these prospects’ shoes himself, he wants to try and do more for them off the field.
“He wants to make sure that we’re still progressing in life as well as progressing in rugby, so you’re not just going there with everything on the line and you have nothing to show for it when you get done,” Mizell said of Hawkins.
While Mizell is putting graduation on hold for a semester to take his shot at the National Team, he will be pursuing something new in California. He’s asked Hawkins to arrange the opportunity for him to step into the coaching world with a local team.
This summer was a weird one for Mizell. He missed the first West 7s qualifier because of All American duties, he then helped WE win the second qualifier and was asked to leave the team prior to the third. WE Rugby coach David Pope and Mizell appeared to have a personality conflict. Pope declined to comment on the reason Mizell left the team, and Mizell seemed confused about the reason himself. Nonetheless, one of the best young 7s prospects in the country was left without a chance to showcase his game at Nationals in front of the new National Team coach.
“Obviously, I was really concerned about it, but in the long run it gave me a chance to get healthy. I’ve been banged up for a while,” said Mizell, who will still be rehabbing his first couple of weeks at the OTC.
“It hurt just because the team was basically all guys I’ve played with for a long time and all my really close friends. It hurt me not to be there and help them out. I also knew I was going to the Serevi tournament after that with the All Americans, so it wasn’t like I wouldn’t have an opportunity to play and for him to see me play, so as long as I had that I figured I’d be alright… Things end so better things can begin, is the way I see it.”
Ando so they have. The current 7s contracts end at the end of the year, and Hawkins will ink a new stack of them in January. Mizell's quest to put his name on one begins now.