Former Provo High football star Maka Unufe recently scored a spot on the USA Rugby’s Olympic sevens team and will compete in the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, starting on August 5, 2016.
After playing football in high school, the Provo native switched to playing rugby and joined the United Rugby Club and Utah Warriors. For the past few years, Unufe played for the Eagles’ sevens team as an integral team member.
The 2016 Rio Olympics mark the rugby’s return to the Olympic Games. In the 1924 Olympic Games held in Paris, France, the United States were the two-time defending champions for rugby. However, rugby was not included in the event lineup for the following Olympics. For the first time in almost a century, Team USA’s rugby team hopes to add to their long-held title.
Coach Mike Friday said, “The boys recognize the magnitude of the task, but are confident that we can be medal contenders if we play to our ability. We will represent the people of the USA in a way that they expect and deserve, exhibiting the characteristics that will make them proud.”
In the 1924 Olympics, rugby included a 15-player team, which will be replaced in the Rio 2016 Olympics by a shorter and faster version, called rugby sevens.
In rugby sevens, two teams of seven players attempt to score (similar to football) within seven minutes each way. According to the International World Games Association, sevens cuts down on time and number of players to create an intense, quick competition. “With less than half the players on the pitch and twice the pace of the traditional 15-a-side game, rugby sevens combines brute force with feline agility,” the website describes. “The teams try to score as many points as possible by carrying, passing, kicking and grounding the ball in 14 or 20 minutes (finals) of play. Sevens remains a contest for possession of the ball, but as four defenders and three attackers per side employ ingenious tactics to outwit their opponents, the game moves fast and fluid—and the scores tend to be very high.”
Also included on the twelve-man team, New England Patriots star Nate Ebner joins Madison Hughes, who captained his team to win a World Trophy in 2015.
Maka Unufe, who debuted with the Eagles Sevens in 2011 at the Pan American Games, stands at 6 ft 2 in tall and runs a 40-yard dash at an average of 4.4 seconds. With his long limbs and quick movements, Unufe is an invaluable member of the national rugby team.
Born and raised in Provo, Utah, Unufe played football for Provo High until he dropped out his senior year of high school. After considering his options, he decided to play rugby professionally. Dividing his time between rugby and his young family, Unufe draws strength from his wife and three children.
“The reason I want to keep pushing when I’m tired . . . I always think of my wife—she’s done a lot for me—and especially my kids,” Unufe said. “They’re the reason I push when I feel like I want to give up.”
While Team USA ranks under other teams to win, coach Mike Friday sounds determined and hopeful. “While we are not the pre-tournament favorites like Fiji, who have to play with that expectation, we are a team who are hugely respected and feared by all other countries as genuine contenders. We know that on any given Sunday we have the power, pace and physicality to match and beat anyone.”
Meanwhile, Unafe took to Twitter and Instagram to share his excitement, saying, “[Blessed] and excited to represent my country and play next to these boyz in Rio!”
— Maka Unufe (@MakaUnufe) July 19, 2016
The Rio 2016 Olympic Games start on August 5, 2016, with the Opening Ceremonies beginning at 5 p.m. (MT).