An Open Door: Inside the 2017
Boys High School All-American Winter Camp

Last December, 184 High-School All-Americans traveled to Arizona to participate in USA Rugby’s 2017 Boys High School All-American Winter Camp. It was scary, exciting and challenging, all at the same time. But, this year brought a little something extra. Head Coach Salty Thompson – in understanding the value and importance of international play – developed a program which included matches against Canada’s U18 teams; igniting a thrilling competitive atmosphere.

Though winter camp has a strong trajectory of producing Eagles, its purpose and value are underpinned by an ability to foster life-long relationships, establish individual character and develop elite athletic skill.

But, don’t just take our word for it. Hear it from the boys of winter camp — future Eagles and representatives of the red, white and blue.

How did you get invited to camp

Austin Arnett | Age 17 | 2 Winter Camps CompletedFrom Athens, Tennessee – began playing at age 12 – currently plays for Tribe Rugby

I was at a skills camp at MTSU (Middle Tennessee State University) and I had no idea that Salty was there, he came unannounced. Me and one of my friends were doing this drill and he came up to us and asked us to do it again. We did it again about four times until he had the whole camp come watch us do it. At the very end, he asked us if we wanted to go to Canada and we said of course. It all started there.

When I first got to camp, I was terrified. I was with the top players across the United States and I knew nobody; so, that was a little intimidating. But, by the end of it you warm up to a bunch of people and make new friends so the second time you come around it’s that much easier and enjoyable. They split you up so you are forced to meet new people constantly.

What was it like to learn from Eagles Ryan Matyas and Brett Thompson?

Larry Williams | Age 18 | 2 Winter Camps CompletedFrom Clayton, North Carolina – began playing rugby at age 14 – currently plays for Clayton Copperheads

I thought it was really cool to learn from people who actually play at the international level themselves; and, to hear feedback about the process of getting there — we can’t always relate to a coach because they are so much older than we are. I sat down with Ryan for a little bit and was asking him about the process of getting there and he told me to keep working hard. It made me realize that this is what I really want to do and I have to keep on track, stay focused and stay driven.

How did competing against Canada U18 teams help develop your skill set?

Mike Weir | Age 17 | 2 Winter Camps CompletedFrom Schwenksville, PA – began playing rugby at age 5 – currently plays for Doylestown Rugby

The international component really increased the level of camp. Everyone knew they weren’t just there for camp, they were competing for a spot to play in an international game at the age-grade level. So, at every practice, people bring their “A” game – no one is slacking. It just helped develop everyone, overall. The competition in your position group — and on the field in general — just pushes you to higher levels that help develop you as a player because you don’t often get those situations. International matches are something you have to experience to understand, given the high-intensity, high-pressure environments and being able to overcome those to focus on your skills and your job to execute effectively.

Describe the overall experience based on the competitiveness of camp?

Ethan McVeigh | Age 18 | 2 Winter Camps CompletedThe camp is always a great time. Even though you’re cold, wet and tired, there is nothing better than getting up every day in a world-class training facility and playing the sport that you love most.

I think this year was pretty competitive. Being able to compete among the best players in the country is most importantly a learning platform. You get to display your talents at a very high level as well as getting to see what differentiates you from the other players of the same position. When I attended camp for the first time last year, I saw it as an opportunity to see how I faired with the best and what I was going to do after camp if I wasn’t the best. The most important part is going into it with an open mind as well as a mindset to learn.

Head Coach Salty ThompsonFrom Tempe, AZ – began coaching in 1989 – currently coaches USA Rugby 15s and 7s High-School All Americans
At the 2018 National Development Summit, Coach Thompson was honored as USA Rugby’s Male National Team Coach of the Year for his over two decades of service to the development of the Boys High School All-American program.

How to get invited?

The regional cup tournaments (which are June events for all-star and invitational teams) have been the main pipeline for players to be identified. Not exclusively, however, because some players are hurt that time of year; with the “Grand-Daddy” of them all in Denver every June (Rocky Mountain Cup Challenge). A lot of former and current Eagles have come through Regional Cup Tournaments. But, you can also be identified if you’re playing in other high-performance events. A lot of teams put their film online on Hudl accounts and YouTube with players promoting themselves through that, as well.

What do you look for? 

Well, coming from an educator background and career I would say that character comes number one. There’s always talent around. I think in our sport we value character; good coaches value character. We’re looking for good men; and, obviously they have to be good players but I would put character first and talent second.

Most valuable part? 

There’s a big message when you look at 184 players; it’s like a pyramid and that was a base. There are going to be Eagles that come out of this group but that is just the tip of it as we grow the game at this elite level, as well. If those 184 players are to fall in love with the game – which I think they are because we can see that commitment – and they take that to a collegiate or club level, start their careers, become coaches and become dads, then their kids are involved in the sport. I think there is a really big picture of selling not only the brand of USA Rugby but also the High School All-American badge. It’s about selling our sport, growing our sport, as well as sending a message about our character and what we embrace.

I think people need to understand, there’s always an open door.

For more information about how to become a Boys High School All-American, click here.
Support the USA Rugby High-School All-American Programs here.