NFL star Nate Ebner has been named in the USA men's squad for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
Ebner was the youngest-ever player to represent the USA men’s sevens team at the age of 17, before embarking on a successful career in American Football.
The New England Patriot impressed USA coach Mike Friday sufficiently with his performances in the Hong Kong, Singapore and Paris rounds of the 2015-16 HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series and at the recent month-long training camp in San Diego.
He is joined in the squad by jet-heeled duo Carlin Isles and Perry Baker, two of the most exciting players on the series, while Madison Hughes caps a memorable season with the captaincy. Hughes was top points scorer on the 2015-16 series with 331 points.
Friday also finds room for veteran Andrew Duratalo and Chris Wyles despite neither player featuring on the world series last season due to club commitments in Japan and England. English Premiership and European Cup winner Wyles, who captained the USA to glory in the North American qualifier 12 months ago, has not featured on the series for eight years.
Series regulars Zack Test, Folau Niua, Danny Barrett, Garrett Bender and Kisi Unufe take their places in the squad as the USA attempt to match the gold medal won by their compatriots the last time rugby was played at the Olympics in 1924.
Colorado’s Ben Pinkelman, aged 22, is the youngest member of a well-rounded squad that Friday believes will have the support of the whole nation behind it.
“The squad itself represents the country on so many levels and is cosmopolitan in makeup, which is a true reflection of the country,” he said. “The team is balanced in terms of physicality, power, X-factor and out-and-out pace. We possess great aerial presence and kickers who are able to exploit these skills. As along with the contact area, we see this as a huge area in the game."
POTTER READY FOR NEXT CHALLENGE
After recovering from a broken neck and surviving cancer, Jillion Potter's route to Rio 2016 has been tougher than most, if not all, her fellow athletes.
Potter returned for the 2015-16 HSBC World Rugby Women's Sevens Series, 14 months after her original cancer diagnosis, and the 30-year-old featured in all but one of the five rounds to put herself firmly in the frame for the Olympic Games.
She is joined in the women's squad by fellow veterans Kelly Griffin and Victoria Folayan, while Richelle Stephens – the youngest player in the squad – has already represented her country on the Olympic stage at the Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, China, in 2014.
Alev Kelter and Jessica Javelet have crossed over from other sports to realise their Olympic dream, while a number of the Rio-bound squad won the silver medal at the Pan American Games in Toronto last year. Victoria Folayan, Griffin, Kathryn Johnson and Potter also finished third at Rugby World Cup Sevens 2013 in Moscow.
“I have selected a group of girls with a wide variety of playing styles and I am excited to see them all come together and play for each other in Rio,” said coach Richie Walker.
Women's squad: Bui Baravilala, Ryan Carlyle, Lauren Doyle, Joanne Fa'avesi, Carmen Farmer, Victoria Folayan, Kelly Griffin, Jessica Javelet, Kathryn Johnson, Alev Kelter, Jillion Potter, Richelle Stephens.
Men's squad: Perry Baker, Danny Barrett, Garrett Bender, Andrew Durutalo,Nate Ebner, Madison Hughes (captain), Carlin Isles, Folau Niua, Ben Pinkelman, Zack Test, Kisi Unufe, Chris Wyles.