ORLANDO - The intricate symbols that snake down University of Central Florida offensive lineman Wes Tunuufi Sauvao's arms tell his family's story.
During the brief break between the spring and summer semesters, Tunuufi Sauvao found a tattoo artist near his parents' home in Alaska who could do traditional Samoan tattoos using brittle combs instead of efficient guns favored in most tattoo parlors.
Tunuufi Sauvao's family gave the tattoo artist two pigs and other amenities in exchange for spending 28 hours filling the offensive lineman's body with symbols of his heritage.
"I wanted to do something that shows I'm coming into manhood," said Tunuufi Sauvao, a junior on the football team. "They're all about my family and our history. They show strength and growth. Having these tattoos also means you're a service member in the community."
It was a painful process that demonstrates Tunuufi Sauvao's commitment to his culture. He says the tattoos also inspire him to be a better person and stronger member of the UCF football program.
Tunuufi Sauvao heard about the grueling process of getting a traditional Samoan tattoo when he was growing up and never thought he would sign up for so much discomfort. His mind-set changed when he first arrived at UCF and was separated from his family. He bit the bullet and got the Samoan symbols etched on both of his shoulders.
This offseason, Tunuufi Sauvao was one of many Knights who figured more body ink would set the perfect tone for strong summer workouts and a tougher performance on the field next season.
On May 10, Tunuufi Sauvao had his family's tribal name "Tanuvasa" tattooed across his back. The next day, he had the tattoo on his left arm extended to his elbow. The following day, he asked the tattoo artist to fix the faded tattoo on his right shoulder and extend it to his elbow. Inside one arm, he added the Samoan words that mean brave warrior, and inside the other arm, he added the words that mean Samoan power.
"It's a long process," he said. "It's not like a regular tattoo, where they sit down, draw it, put a stencil on your arm and go to work with the ink.
"With this, you talk with the tattoo artist, and he just does it freehand. He has to be a certified tattoo artist and sort of get the blessing from the chief. You just sit there and talk about things. That's how you get over the pain process."
Tunuufi Sauvao definitely felt the pain, and his right arm ended up swelling when he took a flight back to Orlando two days after getting the tattoo. It took more than a week for his body to recover from the inflammation.
"It hurt," he said. "It hurt really bad. I didn't take any painkillers."
Whenever football workouts get tough, Tunuufi Sauvao said he sometimes thinks of his tattoos and draws strength from all the pain he already has endured.
UCF coach George O'Leary doesn't mind the body art, but he did tease Tunuufi Sauvao for the unique method of payment.
"Coach made fun of that when I explained how we paid for it, and a lot of people thought it was really funny," Tunuufi Sauvao said. "It's kind of like a barter system. You and your family take care of the tattoo artist. You pay for food and housing for the tattoo artist. You throw pigs in there to help out with the cost. My country's still not that caught up with money, so two pigs are a big deal. Two pigs would cost $1,000."
Tunuufi Sauvao said he is happy his tattoos have sparked conversations, giving him a chance to talk about his culture.
"I like talking about it because that's what keeps our culture alive," he said.