The overseas rugby press loves the story of the football player crossed over to rugby, and they especially love the story of African American sports crossovers, mainly because they know that the USA is full of impressive athletes who didn’t make the NFL, the Olympic track team, or some other level, but could be great for the athletic and cultural diversity of one of the world’s most diverse sports.
In the middle of all of this sit Miles Craigwell and Carlin Isles. For the first time, both are on the USA 7s team at the same time. Both have been at the center of their share of attention in previous years, attention they have tried to enjoy, while also trying to make it plain that they are still learning, and that while they might be part of a new wave of American rugby players, they are still trying to get more minutes on the Eagles and help the team win.
Both manage to do it with a smile.
“I think we’re used to it by now,” Isles told RUGBYMag.com. “We talk about it. We know we’re both just trying to be successful as rugby players, and it did take time to transition out of another sport.”
They handled the transition in different ways. Craigwell was on the USA team from 2010 to 2012. Oddly, he made his USA debut against New Zealand in the first tournament of the year, the same team he re-opens his USA career against. His last game was a 19-14 loss to Australia in the USA 7s in Las Vegas in 2012 – he never played for Alex Magleby, and instead concentrated on playing 15s for Seattle-OPSB and 7s for that club and Serevi.
The intention was to get as much game time as possible, thus learning more about how the game flows, and also helping him transition from a 7s wing into a player who can play forward or back.
“The whole thing was supposed to help me with my progress,” Craigwell told RUGBYMag.com. “I was playing with the USA team but not getting a lot of time in games. So I went to Seattle and I think it paid off. I think I learned a lot and progressed as a player. Now I come back here and it’s a lot different – I’m a hooker now, but a hooker who can use his speed and strength to help the team.”
Craigwell bulked up a little, too, and learned not only to hit hard, but under control. He was the MVP of the 7s Club Championships, and certainly seems proud that he worked his way back onto the team through his domestic play.
Meanwhile, Isles joined the USA 7s setup in the summer of 2012, and has stayed, He struggled to get minutes, as did Craigwell, but since his job is basically to run really fast and score tries, the team could afford to give him more minutes.
“I feel now I am a rugby player,” said Isles. “I still have a lot to learn, but I think with how I’ve done I will earn more playing time. I am working hard for it and trying to show more skills. All you can do is work hard every day. I know I can bring a lot to the team, and I know the more experience you can get, the better you can become.”
Craigwell’s best attribute is his power. He has learned to identify small gaps and make them larger, and he has worked hard on his offloading ability. For Isles, it’s his speed, but he has improved his defense and his passing.
The big weapon for Isles of late has been the kick – teammates spot green grass behind the defensive line and launch a kick for Isles to chase. The former sprinter is usually the first to the ball, but crucially, he is also very good at judging when the ball will bounce just right.
“We do practice that, but thank God I do think it comes to me naturally, as well,” said Isles. “It’s an asset for me to be able to do that.”
Both players garner a lot of notice on the field, and it may be that is an extra asset, too. Perhaps all that attention is a good thing.
See the career paths of these two in pictures here!