Penn State's senior starting right tackle from Daly City, Calif., is of Samoan descent and there isn't much of a Polynesian community in State College. In fact, he might comprise it all by himself.
There also is the little matter of him being a junior college transfer, a species of Nittany Lion that is almost as rare. The only other such player on the roster is his main competitor for his starting spot, Nerraw McCormack, although McCormack is from the Bronx and presumably more on the same wave length with Penn State coach Joe Paterno, who even in his 60th season in Happy Valley doesn't bother much to conceal his Brooklyn roots. In any case, Poti and McCormack are the first juco transfers at Penn State since wide receiver Mike Alexander ran his last pass pattern in 1987.
The 6-3, 305-pound Poti could have gone to one of those Western Athletic Conference or Mountain West Conference schools -- like, for instance, Utah, where his father, Issako Poti, played football from 1983 to '87.
Every now and then, when he watches Utah or BYU play on television, Poti is reminded of the choice he faced in December 2006.
"Seeing all the Samoans and Polynesians on TV, I think, 'I could have been with them, my people,' " said Poti, who will make his fourth consecutive start on Saturday, when No. 12 Penn State (7-1, 3-1 Big 10) takes on Northwestern (5-3, 2-2) in Evanston, Ill. "But I grew up with Samoans. I wanted to break away a little bit."
He broke away to a land where the nearest palm tree is a photo in a travel brochure. It doesn't snow in Samoa and hardly ever in California, where Poti was an All-America at City College of San Francisco. The idea of experiencing something new lost some of its allure when Poti, who enrolled at Penn State in January 2007, stepped out into the chilly air a few times.
"I remember calling my mother," Poti recalled. "I said, 'Mom, I think I need a scarf. I never used a scarf in my life, but I think I really need one now.' "
Poti endured the cold because of the opportunity. He figured he would have a chance to play immediately, but what sold him on PSU was his first meeting with Paterno.
"Just hearing him say, 'I don't want you if you're not a good student,' kind of made Penn State look a whole lot better to me," Poti said.
Poti is a good student, in the classroom and on the field, according to PSU quarterback Darryl Clark.
"What I really like about Ako is that when he makes a mistake, he will apologize to us in the huddle," Clark said. "Then on the next play, he'll go out and put somebody right on their behind. You got to like a guy like that."