With tomorrow's start against Georgia, Paul Emerick becomes the first back to play 50 times for the United States.
Featuring 15 test tries and 3 World Cups, Emerick's international log includes matches at either midfield position, on both wings, and at fullback. Since 2001, he has been tapped by six US coaches plus a cluster of 7s Eagles head men. Vaea Anitoni and Mark Williams are among the few with comparable resumes.
Abroad, he has lined up for Ireland's Ulster, Wales' Dragons, a pair of Italian clubs, and, this past winter, England's Wasps. Not many foreigners break into the Premiership. Emerick did it at age 32, a powerful signal he is still worth his salt.
As an Iowa high schooler, Emerick earned first-team all-state honors at linebacker and also reached wrestling's championship semfinals, no mean feat in one of America's grappling hotbeds. Going on to the University of Northern Iowa, he was singled out by Jack Clark for 2001 All-American honors, joining an Ireland tour squad that also blooded Kimball Kjar and Matt Wyatt plus 7s Eagle Matt Huckaby.
In 2002, Emerick debuted at the international level, replacing another up-and-comer, David Fee, in USA A's 24-8 loss to touring Scotland. A year later, by which time Emerick had linked up with the Chicago Lions, his first cap came against Spain, as a substitute for Link Wilfley.
But in an era of domestic representative play, when competition for the national team roster was more transparent and robust, Emerick was no sure thing. After time on the sidelines, his next two games were on the wing; it wasn't until the fall's World Cup that Tom Billups decided he was ready for a starting place at 15; and by 2004 he was already out of job, through combination of injury and the emergence of Francois Viljoen.
So Emerick, with another All-American teammate, Salesi Sika, moved into midfield, joining Albert Tuipolotu as mainstays of the 2004 and 2005 campaigns. Simultaneously, he signed his first professional contract, with Italy's Amatori Catania.
In 2006 and 2007, Peter Thorburn generally preferred the now-veteran Emerick at wing. Named to his second World Cup in 2007, he was yellow carded against England for a spear (or tip) tackle, and subsequently suspended for the rest of the tournament.
Playing for Scott Johnson in 2008, he returned to outside center, where he also spent most of his time under Eddie O'Sullivan through the 2011 World Cup, his third world championship. But against Canada in 2009, he was again cited for dangerous play, in an incident that threatened to end his first-class career.
Such transgressions made him a liability for the team, and indeed, he was never likely to be remembered as America's most elegant outside back. To say that he cleaned up his act, however, infers he was once a dirty player. In fact Emerick's is a naturally rambunctious style, and a reminder that coaching helps smooth players' rough edges and otherwise better contribute to the team framework.
Long after establishing himself as an USA regular and European pro, Emerick wanted to compete for the 7s Eagles. Therein lies the genius of his career. Some players achieve distinction by becoming the best they can be. Emerick belongs more to that category of athletes who relish testing themselves against the best possible opposition, and in earning that right, themselves become great.
USARFU 'Silver Eagles'
- Mike MacDonald (66, 2000 - )
- Luke Gross (62, 1996 - 2004)
- Alec Parker (56, 1996 - 2009)
- Dave Hodges, (54, 1996 - 2005)
- Kort Schubert, (50, 2000 - 2008)
- Paul Emerick (50, 2003 - )
United States of America v Georgia
Chris Wyles (Saracens); Luke Hume (Old Blue), Paul Emerick (Wasps), Andrew Suniula (Cornish Pirates), James Paterson (Glendale Raptors); Roland Suniula (Chicago Griffins), Mike Petri (New York Athletic Club); Shawn Pittman (London Welsh), Chris Biller (Northampton), Eric Fry (Wellington Old Boys), Louis Stanfill (New York Athletic Club), Bryan Doyle (New York Athletic Club), Taylor Mokate (Wellington Old Boys), Scott Lavalla (Stade Francais), Todd Clever (captain, NTT Shining Arcs)
Reserves: Derek Asbun (Oxford Univ.), Andre Liufau (L'Uson), Mike MacDonald (undeclared), Andrew Durutalo (USA 7s); Shaun Davies (Brigham Young Univ.), Will Holder (United States Military Academy), Colin Hawley (USA 7s)