“"Tom Sanders isn't good enough for the HSAA program. We have three Fullbacks right now that are better than him"”
Mike Tolkien -- HSAA Head Coach 2001
Landon Graduate To Wear U.S. Colors
By Jim Crowley January 16, 2003
Where Tom Sanders sat on Dec. 6, a dropped ink pen would sound like a jackhammer. There was no sound, which was just what Sanders preferred as he studied for exams in the University of Virginia library.
He had a tough slate ahead of him, a lineup of tests in his economics and pre-med curriculum. His books and notes were stacked before him. And stashed among all the reading material was his cell phone.
Suddenly it broke the silence.
5 stories you can't afford to miss, every Saturday.
Startled, he picked it up and looked at the caller ID. It was the number for Scott Compton, national team director for USA Rugby.
"I had to pick up the phone and run out, knocking over a couple studiers," Sanders said. "He doesn't call me unless it's something important."
Compton had important news: Sanders was chosen for USA Rugby's 7-on-a-side Eagles team. At 20, he would be the youngest member to compete this March in Vina Del Mar, Chile, one of 12 tournament stops on the World 7s Series.
"I went outside and started jumping around," Sanders said. "I get to put on the red, white and blue and represent my country."
Sanders, a junior who plays the flyhalf position on Virginia's rugby club, earned a spot on the 12-man roster during tryouts in November. He was one of 27 contenders overall, and one of four collegiate candidates, but he was the only one invited from men's club competition.
The selection was the culmination of a good year for Sanders, a Landon graduate. The 6-foot-2, 205-pounder starred for the Bethesda-based Maryland Exiles in August as they placed second at the National Seven-a-Side Championships in Philadelphia. Sanders was a standout at hooker, scoring key tries in quarterfinal and semifinal victories.
"He erupted on the domestic scene this summer. At the national level, he was a complete unknown. He came like a shot out of the blue," Compton said. "It's the beauty of American rugby, we're always working and we're always looking to get better. Tom's a poster boy for that idea."
Sanders's performance in the national championships led to an invitational tryout for the national team in Chula Vista, Calif. The three-day training session began with a 1-kilometer shuttle run, four minutes of all-out sprinting. Sanders and the most experienced national 7s players were left winded and doubled over.
"That was one of the most incredible tests of my life," Sanders said.
One-on-one tackling highlighted the third day's menu. Sanders's first challenge was to run against Nelo Lui, longtime U.S. Eagles 7s captain, in front of the entire team and coaching staff.
"He smacked me real good," Sanders said. "He gave me a shoulder to my stomach, the type of hit that could knock all the wind out of you. But I guess I did well, I held onto the ball."
Sanders held onto a spot on the team, becoming one of the youngest Americans ever to put on an Eagles jersey.
"It's immense," said Maryland Exiles co-coach Vince Granger, who was an Eagles selection in 1992. "In two years he did what it took me nine years to do. If you're going by age and experience, I haven't seen anybody here [in the Washington area] as good as him.
"To have a guy not be afraid to make mistakes and hang it out there is amazing. If you miss a tackle in 15s you have 14 other guys to help you out. If you miss a tackle in 7s, they're likely going to score. He doesn't miss tackles."
Sanders's appointment to the national 7s team also was timely. The U.S. Eagles' 15s team is in the midst of qualifying for the 2003 Rugby World Cup in Australia, and the International Olympic Committee has discussed reinstating rugby in the form of 7s.
On Dec. 5 the IOC postponed any decision, which likely means rugby wouldn't make it back before 2012.
Rugby was last an Olympic sport in 1928, when the United States won gold, but it was removed due to lack of participating teams.
Sanders began participating in rugby by joining the under-19 Exiles while he was a student at Landon, where he played soccer and basketball. He's the third Landon alumnus associated with the Eagles; lacrosse coach Rob Bordley was an Eagle captain in 1975, and 1992 graduate James Cassidy was included in the U.S. Eagles' Fiji tour and appeared in an international test match.
Sanders said he expects to see limited action in his first international tour -- he plays a position held by an incumbent, Magleby Alexander of New York Athletic Club, and playing time is fiercely guarded. But he will get his opportunities.
"You're always battling some odds," Compton said. "It depends on how quickly he makes his adjustments. Tom's a naturally gifted all-around athlete.
"He's big without being huge, he's fast without being super fast. Tom's got a good head for the game."
"I get to put on the red, white and blue," said Tom Sanders, who will play for USA Rugby's 7-on-a-side Eagles team.
Updated 06:29 - 27 Dec 2017 by Dan Soso