In September on CBS's 60 Minutes, correspondent Scott Pelley presented a report, American Samoa: Football Island. Pelley reported that 30 NFL players and over 200 Division-I players are of Samoan descent. N.C. State senior starting defensive tackle Natanu Mageo is one of those players.
Raised in Pago-Pago, Mageo started playing football in high school. There were no youth football programs in Samoa until this past year. Mageo like other boys grew up playing rugby but could not wait to play football.
"I always loved football and couldn't wait to get to put on the pads," Mageo said. "Its part of our culture, everybody wants to play football back home."
In Pelley's 60 Minutes report, he travels to American Samoa and visits with the football teams. On his visit he notices big differences in the conditions in which they played and practiced that spoke to a toughness and passion for the game. Teams did not have nice fields but dirt and rocks, teams did not all have pads and had to share the old beaten up ones that they did have.
"We had to share our pads and helmets with the JV team," Mageo said. "For the practices Varsity would get the pads on Mondays and Tuesdays and JV would get the pads on Wednesdays. They played their games of Thursday and Fridays and we played on Saturdays."
Like many impoverished societies, there are few ways to be successful in American Samoa. It was planned throughout grade school to either try to go to the states to go to college, or to join the military. Football became another part of the plan in recent years.
"You look forward to it, you were expecting to leave the island. Most people go to college or join the military," Mageo said. "Plan B for me was to go to college and play football. To go to the military was supposed to be Plan A but Plan B presented itself, so I took it."
At the time the only film of games were at the Samoan All-Star game and the Samoa Bowl, played against Hawaii. With the game footage from these games, Mageo was recruited and given a partial scholarship to play for New Mexico Military Junior College. After two seasons playing there, Mageo began getting recruited by Division-I schools all over the nation.
Recruiting Coordinator and Special teams coach Jerry Petercuskie travelled to Roswell, N.M. to visit with Mageo.
"We were looking for an older defensive tackle so I started looking at junior colleges and decided to go check him out," Petercuskie said. "We aren't going to bring in a player without finding out if they can play, if they are smart, if they are hard working and if they are a good person, Natanu was that and more."
Mageo has had to face many differences in his life here outside of football, experiencing a kind of culture shock being 6,900 miles from home.
"In our culture, everyone is real respectful to others, it's a whole different world," said Mageo. "Back home you can rely on each other and be more open with people but over here you have to rely more on yourself and that's how you survive."
Mageo also had never spoken fluent English. Growing up he learned English in class but spoke Samoan outside of it and in New Mexico there were other Samoans who he could communicate with. At State he has had to adjust to a lack of that communication.
"Its difficult because I think Samoan. When someone speaks to me it gets translated into Samoan in my head and I have to think before I reply in Samoan," Mageo said. "I adjusted by not being able to speak Samoan to anybody."
The only time Mageo speaks Samoan now is once a week during his calls home. Mageo's last time home was during the break between the holiday break last year. Visiting right after the largest earthquake of the year hit and caused a tsunami that devastated American Samoa, just two months before.
"It was right after practice and I had a lot of text messages telling me to call home and asking how my family was doing. So I ran to the training room and had them turn to the news," Mageo said. "I had never been worried in my life before then. I thought it was the safest place ever but when I talked to my cousins they said that's where the tsunami hit the worst, in my hometown.
"The next day I got a call from my auntie and she said my family was ok but at the same time a lot of people still died. It was a hard time and when those kinds of things happen, the only thing you wish for is to be with your family. All I could do was hope and pray for the best."
A major focus in the Pelley piece is in regard to the tough nature and strong culture of the Samoan people. In his report he interviews Troy Polamalu, perennial Pro-Bowler and Super Bowl winning safety for the Pittsburg Steelers, who is of Samoan descent. Polamalu spoke of Fa'a Samoa, translated "The Samoan Way."
"It is Samoan culture, Samoan tradition," said Mageo. "The Samoan mentality is that you are supposed to be tough." It's not only people's expectations but it's my mentality when I play because that's how I was brought up."
A criminology major due to graduate this May, Mageo carries Fa'a Samoa with him off the field as well, hoping his education here at State will not only provide him with a chance to play football, but also give him a valuable education that hopefully leads him to a job.
"I'm trying to get my degree and do something with it," Mageo said.