Friday, August 20, 2010

Toeaina Making His Brother Proud

Matt Toeaina's life changed forever when his brother was shot and killed.

''My kids made an oath,'' said Albert Toeaina, Matt's father. ''They wanted to do something for their brother. They changed their lives around. His passing was the turning point.''

This training camp is shaping up to be another turning point for the Bears defensive tackle. An afterthought when camp began, Toeaina has been steadily climbing the depth chart during practices at Olivet Nazarene University. Although he only has played in five games the last three seasons, the 6-2, 308-pounder is often finding himself sandwiched between Tommie Harris and Julius Peppers while taking snaps with the first team.
Asked about Toeaina's rapid ascent, coach Lovie Smith seemed pleased that somebody noticed.

''After a while, coaches start playing the guys we see making plays and taking advantage of the opportunity,'' Smith said. ''He's performed when we've moved him up, and he's shown up every day.

''He's exactly the type of guy that we need. There are a lot of stars around him, and he's that 9-to-5 guy who just does his job."

Abiel Toeaina was the oldest of five. He was playing basketball at a San Francisco recreation center in 1994 when a group of teenagers interrupted the game. A fight broke out. Abiel escaped the building but returned when he realized his cousin was still inside. A shot rang out. A bullet hit Abiel in the chest.

The family was devastated. While mourning, Matt's brothers and sister, as well as his cousins, made a pact.

They would live the best lives possible to honor Abiel and would hold each other accountable.

''He was big in sports,'' said Matt, whose younger brother Simi is a defensive lineman at Oregon. ''Everybody felt like he was going somewhere with his athleticism and the type of person he was. When he passed away, we felt we had to finish what he started.''

The family later moved to American Samoa. That's where his football career really began.

He was recruited to Oregon as a fullback and later switched to defensive tackle when he continued to grow and his weight ballooned. He was named honorable-mention All-Pac-10 as a senior.

The Cincinnati Bengals made him a sixth-round pick in the 2007 draft, and the Bears claimed him off the Cincinnati Bengals' practice squad late that season.

''The biggest thing for me when I went to college was the training table,'' he said. ''It was like a buffet. It was all you can eat. In Samoa, you had to work for your food. You had to climb trees or go to a plantation or go to the pig sty and kill the pig. Over here, you just stand in line, and everything is waiting for you.''

Matt got married in June. The entire family was there. Albert was surprised to hear his sons and daughter and nephews and nieces talking about the vow they'd made all those years ago.

''It wasn't just for the moment,'' Matt said. ''It's a lifetime pact for us to strive to better ourselves as people. We'll always share that pact together.''

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