Sunday, September 2, 2012

The Marcus Mariota Era Enters With a Bang

The University of Oregon ripped off 50 points in the first half of its season opener against Arkansas State. But I can't, and won't, join those who believe they learned absolutely nothing about the Ducks in Saturday's installment of the Cupcake Challenge Series. 

Turns out, the first Ducks freshman to start at quarterback in 22 season openers, Marcus Mariota, has a mother who would like her son's last name correctly pronounced. Can't say I blame her. Sports information director David Williford confirmed Mrs. Mariota called the university to inform them it's pronounced "Mar-ee-oh-TAH" not "Mar-ee-ohtah." 

It's going to take repetition to get that right, but we all learned something on Saturday. 

It was Oregon 57, Arkansas State 34 in the season opener. That's pronounced: "LAFF-er." 

Here's what the first-half 50-point mark looked like in the second quarter: Ducks running back Byron Marshall scores a touchdown on fourth and goal from the 3 (assisted by Mar-ee-oh-TAH, who helped pile-drive his teammate across the goal line). Kicker Rob Beard makes the extra point. Williford leaps out of his chair, and jogs across the press box to one of his intern staffers, who was told to immediately research school scoring records. 

The intern was stoked. 

But the kid was nowhere near as focused, and excited, and crisp as the inexperienced, unproven Mar-ee-oh-TAH was in his debut. You can call Arkansas State awful (and the Red Wolves were). You can point out that the Ducks should have been playing Kansas State or New Mexico (and we all would have preferred it). You can say that we're not going to know how good Oregon is for more than a month (also very true). But what's not in doubt is how good Mar-ee-oh-TAH is. 

He was accurate. He was poised. He was agile. Mar-ee-oh-TAH mostly made good decisions. He demonstrated leadership, and appeared to be in command of the offense. What I'm trying to say is that he looks talented enough to show up on campus and chase a starting quarterback with two conference championships into the woods. 

If he hasn't already, Mar-ee-oh-TAH is going to make you forget Darron Thomas. He completed 12 of his first 13 and finished 18 of 22 for 200 yards. He threw three touchdown passes. He had a nice 17-yard run himself and helped push that teammate over the goal line in a critical situation. Save for one messy incompletion, and a misread of the defensive end on an option (he should have kept the ball and instead gave it to Kenjon Barner), this kid was pristine in his debut. 

I am not mocking Mrs. Mar-ee-oh-TAH by giving the phonetic pronunciation of her son's last name. I'm making sure I drill the correct pronunciation for you and for me, especially. Because I learned in two otherwise meaningless quarters of blowout football on Saturday, one play at a time, that we'd all better get this kid's name correct. He's going to be here a long while, and he's going to be memorable. 

Mar-ee-oh-TAH even sounds good. That "TAH" at the end punctuates it. Feels like it could easily turn into "Mar-ee-oh-TAH-DAH" with very little imagination. 

When it comes to Ducks quarterbacks I always like to go to Joey Harrington for an appraisal. The former NFL quarterback and Ducks star studies the game, and mechanics, and sees things on another level. And so at halftime, I reached out to Harrington, who is in Los Angeles preparing for his Fox broadcast gig. 

Columnist: "What did you think of Mar-ee-oh-TAH?" 

Harrington: "Barely got to see it. On set in LA. By the time I got to the TV it was 42-3!" 

Well put, Joey. Circle back after we see more. But I suppose what Mar-ee-oh-TAH did against Arkansas State was exactly what he did in fall practice, where he asserted himself as the winner of a tight quarterback competition. There will be tougher challenges, there will be bigger moments, but I saw enough to know how dangerous Mar-ee-oh-TAH can be in this offense. 

That first half featured seven Oregon trips to the red zone and six Ducks touchdowns. Mar-ee-oh-TAH pulled his helmet off with 7:06 left in the second quarter. His team had 50 points on the board. And for the first time in his playing career at Oregon I saw something that I believe we'll see a lot of over the next 24 to 48 months. 

Mar-ee-oh-TAH smiled. 

That's pronounced SMILED. 

Full Article

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Learn How to Haka From Tuihalamaka

By now, most Arizona Wildcats fans have heard of the Haka dance, the traditional Maori war dance that's taken on a life of its own in athletics. The UA has been performing it off and on since 2009; former quarterbackNick Foles talked about it with Jon Gruden this spring.
Well, the Wildcats need Haka helpers. As we reported Saturday, Arizona's players will perform the dance in front of the Zona Zoo before every home game; first-year coach Rich Rodriguez wants the student section to learn it, and perform it with them. While it's an ambitious request —  I like this year's team's chances of making the Rose Bowl better — we're happy to pass along this how-to video from defensive tackle Sione Tuihalamaka. Watch, and enjoy.

American Samoa Players A Long Way From Home

Oregon State freshmen Rommel Mageo, left, and Noke Tago are attending school 5,000 miles from their home in Pago Pago, American Samoa. (Andy Cripe | Corvallis Gazette-Times)

Noke Tago’s first airplane ride was a long one.
A flight between American Samoa and the United States is roughly 15 hours.
If you’re lucky.
Tago said he flew eight hours to Hawaii, waited there for another eight hours and then made the five-hour trip to Oregon.
Tago and Oregon State teammate Rommel Mageo, also from Pago Pago, American Samoa, are both in Corvallis practicing with the Beavers’ football team.
It’s their first time away from home. And home is 5,000 miles away.
“Living a different life, it’s good for me because this is my first time I leave my parents and I stay away from my family,” Tago said. “So the first week I was homesick a lot and I missed my family.”
Mageo’s brother, Natanu, played for North Carolina State two years ago and had the benefit of talking to him before making the move.
“My brother played at N.C. State, so it was a big thing for me,” Mageo said. “He helped me out with a lot of things and he told me all about camp and everything.”
Moving halfway across the world is a big decision.
For Tago and Mageo, it’s a change that they were willing to make.
Few in American Samoa get a chance at college. Or more.
Career prospects are slim at home.
Football is their opportunity.
The American Samoa game
Football was introduced to American Samoa, an unincorporated territory of the U.S., in the 1960s.
While rugby is huge throughout Polynesia, including neighboring Independent State of Samoa, football stuck in American Samoa with the help of television.
The physical nature of the game turned out to be a natural attraction.
“In American Samoa, American football is big,” OSU defensive line coach Joe Seumalo said. “That’s their only form of entertainment.
“They’re raw at the game but they understand the physicalness of it and they love it. They’re no different than a lot of kids over here in the U.S.”
Until Pop Warner started up recently, most of the organized football was played at the high school level.
That means that most players from American Samoa who were good enough to come to the U.S. and play have been raw.
Mageo, a linebacker for OSU, has been playing the sport for five years.
He started in eighth grade.
“It wasn’t really around because we didn’t have youth football. It was only high school, so when you’re little, all you look up to is high school football,” Mageo said. “So when I was in eighth grade I really wanted to play football so I tried out.”
Tago played rugby when he was younger.
A defensive tackle for the Beavers, he’s now 6-foot-1, 290-pounds.
When he arrived in high school the football coaches took one look at him and convinced him to play.
“My freshman year I didn’t practice the whole summer,” he said. “I just come to school and register and the coaches wanted me because they saw me and I’m big. They wanted me to play for them.
“I had more confidence in myself because I played rugby.”
Seumalo said the rules governing football in American Samoa are limited, so the players are able to practice and play year-round.
The players are different as well.
Size is not lacking among the young men of American Samoa.
It’s easy to find linemen and linebackers.
“Football there is different from here,” Mageo said. “There it’s mostly about strength. It’s not really about speed, but everybody’s strong out there.”
The players condition constantly but weight training isn’t common.
Tago said he did a lot of work cutting trees and grass and did push-ups every night before bed.
“We have to do our chores. Every day we do our plantation, grow taro,” Tago said. “That’s where we get our muscle built.”
The recruiting game
Attracted by the size and potential, college coaches have looked for Samoan players for some time now.
Many players of Samoan descent, such as Troy Polamalu, Marques Tuiasosopo and the late Junior Seau, have made the climb to the NFL.
The University of Hawaii has been stocking its roster with Samoan players for years.
Access to the athletes who were already living in Hawaii or on the mainland was simple. Getting to those in American Samoa is a different story.
Film has often been used to evaluate the players.
Recruiting trips to American Samoa have always been tough for college coaches.
“Everyone knows about American Samoa, it’s just that you have flights that are limited, so if you go there, expect to stay there for a couple days because the next flight is three or four days later,” Seumalo said. “And in Samoa, you could probably do it one day, you could do all your reruiting in one day there. But with NCAA rules, these are the dates you can go out and if you go there, you kind of lose a couple days by being out there.
“We just have to be smart in how we do it.”
While there is a good group of American Samoan players who made the trip to the U.S. to play football this fall as freshmen, most of them went to junior colleges.
Four received full-ride scholarships from Division I teams.
Tago and Mageo were two. The other two are Robert Barber and Destiny Vaeao of Washington State.
“Coming here, it’s a big deal, so it was a big thing on the island,” Mageo said. “It was all over the newspaper and everywhere.”
OSU can provide the education and the base for a future career.
“It’s a way for us to get in and get some of those kids and develop those kids,” Seumalo said. “Because you can count the amount the kids that have grown up in the islands, whether it be Samoa or Tonga, that have made it here and played the game of football.”

Thursday, July 26, 2012

BYU Football Program Increases Efforts to Recruit Polynesians

Growing up in Samoa, Gabriel Reid was a decent football player and a member of the LDS faith. It was expected in Samoa that any player with talent who was a Mormon would play football at BYU.
"That's just the way it was back then," said Reid, who played for the Cougars from 2000-02 and the Chicago Bears from 2003-06. His brother Spencer also played for BYU.
Today, it appears BYU's football staff is trying take advantage of that interest by Polynesian families and their ties to the church. Many big and small college football programs have tapped into Polynesian athletic talent over the decades.
University of Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei, who committed to BYU out of Bingham High, is projected by some to be the No. 1 pick in the 2013 NFL draft.
Recruiting Polynesia? Local talent?
Nobody does it better than Utah and BYU.
It appears BYU is working hard to use its advantages and shift more attention to how it manages and approaches players of Polynesian descent.
Head coach Bronco Mendenhall recently dispatched offensive coordinator Brandon Doman to Samoa for a goodwill tour.
"They rolled out the red carpet for him," said Reid.
For BYU and Utah, recruiting South Pacific bloodlines has paid off big time and is a mainstay of their respective football programs. Of Utah's seven commitments for 2013 so far, it appears six recruits pledged are of Polynesian decent. Of BYU's 19, eight fall into this ethnic group.
For Mendenhall, recruiting the Polynesian community should be like fishing in a barrel because of the LDS tradition among two and three generations of immigrants.
If BYU fails to cultivate, manage and reap the benefits, it is a major failure.
Census records show in 1990 there were 3,904 Tongans in Utah. That number doubled to 8,665 in 2000. The next decade the Tongan numbers in the state increased by 52 percent to 13,235. While Samoan migration to Utah started much slower, it has caught up and an equal number from that country now reside in Utah.
Most Tongans and Samoans who moved to Utah did so because of the LDS faith. Both countries have LDS high schools and the church recently closed a similar campus in Hamilton, New Zealand. Combine that with popular BYU-Hawaii, and the church educational system has proved a major part of the lives of LDS faithful in the South Pacific.
It has been reported that 46 percent of the Kingdom of Tonga is LDS. There is a higher per capita of LDS in Tonga than any country in the world.
This past month, Mendenhall invited LDS leaders of Utah's Polynesian stakes to meet with him. "He reached out to stake presidents and other ecclesiastical leaders who were Polynesian. He explained his vision and how much he needs their help in making sure those who are interested in what BYU has to offer, has that opportunity. He explained the standards, academic policies," said Reid, a member of the Provo Wasatch Tongan Stake high council.
"It takes a village to raise a child," said Reid. "Mendenhall said if he has a football player who is struggling, he wants to reach out to their stake president, who can make some phone calls in the community to rally and help. This was a great move by Bronco."
There are three Tongan LDS stakes in Utah. The Provo Wasatch Tongan Stake stretches from Lehi to Santaquin in Utah County. It includes eight wards and two branches, and four of the units are Samoan.
Reid sees the recent hire of former Cougar running back Mark Atuaia as an assistant athletic director at BYU as a move by the school to reach out to the Polynesian community as a specialist, a liaison that is long overdue.
Atuaia, one of Hawaii's most celebrated high school stars while at powerhouse Kahuku High on the North Shore of Oahu, is Samoan and beloved from Laie to Provo. He has a best-selling CD as a singer in Hawaii and his wife was the lead singer for the Jets when that rock group was popular more than a decade ago.
This move followed the trip by Doman to Samoa, where he told gatherings of athletes and coaches and their parents the importance of Polynesian football players to BYU's program.
"For BYU, coming on the island to recruit is only a natural thing for us to do. Our roots and our foundation of Polynesian culture has been here for years and years at BYU," Doman told the Deseret News after his whirlwind trip to American Samoa.
"We have 37 Polynesian kids on our team, more than anybody in the country. It had been a few years since we had been (to American Samoa). It was very important that we return to the island. There are fans, alumni and former players on that island that are supportive of BYU football and BYU in general. If there's ever a place of great resource in the Polynesian community, that is the place. That was the reason for the trip out there. Hopefully we'll find a handful of kids over the next few years that will come here to BYU."
Whatever shortcomings BYU has shown in past years with Polynesian relations since LaVell Edwards left the program, it appears to Reid and others, the school is addressing those issues.
Mendenhall recently asked Reid and other former Cougar players to meet with a Polynesian prospect on campus and explain their experiences. "He ended up committing to Mendenhall," said Reid of the local prospect. "I think meeting with alums helped with him and his parents."
BYU just employed Jason Kaufusi, brother of D-line coach Steve Kaufusi, as a graduate assistant coach as Samoan Shawn Nu'a accepted a job at Navy after completing his graduate work on the football staff.
In staffing a major college football staff with Polynesians, few have done as well as Kyle Whittingham at Utah. Counting defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake, others with South Pacific ties include fullbacks/tight end coach Ilaisa Tuiaki, defensive line coach Chad Kauha'aha'a and strength and conditioning coach Doug Elisaia.
Utah's staff has proved a great asset to Ute Polynesian players and the success is all over Utah's record since Whittingham followed Urban Meyer, although it is an emphasis that dates back to the Ron McBride era.
Both BYU and Utah have tapped Polynesian players for half a century. But there might be more of an onus on BYU to do so, noting its unique religion card. It must be a specialty.
In this regard, BYU has room to grow. The recent hire of Atuaia as an assistant athletic director to Tom Holmoe, speaks to that need.
"Former ASU star and Oakland Raider Junior Ioane has volunteered to help with the BYU football team," said Reid. "He loves BYU."
Officially, BYU doesn't utilize volunteers due to possible infractions, and although Ioane has been seen working out on campus, his presence is unofficial.
So, in the past six months since BYU defeated Tulsa in a bowl game, has BYU developed an enhanced strategy in recruiting Polynesian football players?
"Absolutely," said Reid. "No question."

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Top Vegas QB Commits to Cats For Class of '13

Jarrett Kahanuolaokalani Solomon Jr. goes by Anu, a (much) shortened version of his middle name and a nod to his Hawaiian heritage.
Call him an Arizona Wildcat.
Solomon verbally committed to the UA on Sunday morning, giving first-year coach Rich Rodriguez a quarterback to build around starting in 2013.
Few players in the nation have been as productive as Solomon, a 6-foot-1-inch, 205-pound senior-to-be from Las Vegas Bishop Gorman High School.
In three seasons as a starter, Solomon has thrown for 7,579 yards - already a state of Nevada record - and 104 touchdowns. His 754 rushing yards and 11 ground scores speak to an electric runner.
The recruiting service lists Solomon as a three-star recruit and the nation's 31st-best quarterback. He visited Tucson during Arizona's spring drills, and witnessed one of Rodriguez's manic practices in person. Solomon chose the UA over offers from Arizona State, Colorado, UCLA, Utah and UNLV.
"Rich Rodriguez is a different guy. His competitiveness kind of shocked me, how he kept score with the offense and the defense. I liked it," Solomon said. "I just thought of it like this: Where am I going to succeed in the future, and where will I be comfortable at? Arizona stood out the most out of those categories."
Of Solomon's stats, none are more impressive - or important - than his 43-3 mark as a starter. The Gaels went 16-1 last season and, sparked by Solomon's five first-half touchdown passes, scored 72 points in the 4A state championship game.
The 17-year-old Solomon is the first premier quarterback to verbally commit to Rodriguez, an offensive guru whose spread-option system requires a quick, capable triggerman.
The Wildcats tried to lure Old Tappan (N.J.) star Devin Fuller
in January, but he chose UCLA instead. The UA missed on Scottsdale Chaparral do-everything back Davonte Neal
a month later.
Solomon said he's can't wait to move south. Born on Oahu, Solomon moved with his family to Las Vegas - "We call it the ninth island," he quipped - seven years ago. He's friends with former UA running back Keola Antolin, another Gorman product, and familiar with Arizona's long history with Hawaiian and Polynesian players.
But that wasn't the main reason he chose Arizona, he said.
"First off, Arizona's a great school," he said. "Rich Rodriguez is going to do great things in the future, and I want to be a part of that."

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Carolina Panthers blocker Amini Silatolu paves path to pros

The Notre Dame-Nevada matchup the first weekend of the 2009 season might not have captured the country’s interest, but Amini Silatolu was watching.

A Nevada signee who didn’t qualify academically, Silatolu watched the game from the living room of his parents’ home in northern California – a man without a school.

“They’re playing at (Notre Dame), and I’m sitting at home watching,” Silatolu said. “And watching them running out on the field, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, that could’ve been me.’ ”

It took a couple of years at an out-of-the-way football outpost in north Texas, but what could have been has become what will be for the 6-foot-4, 311-pound offensive lineman.

Through his academic struggles and stops at a California junior college and little-known Midwestern State, Silatolu never lost sight of his goal of making it to the highest level of football – even if he never said much about it.

Having made it to the NFL as the second-round pick of the Carolina Panthers, the soft-spoken giant who manhandled Division II opponents isn’t going to start boasting now.

“Off the field I’m the nicest person you’ll ever meet. I’m really quiet and don’t talk too much,” Silatolu said during a recent phone interview. “I’ve never been that overconfident guy that runs his mouth. Instead of doing a lot of talking, I do a lot of walking. That’s just who I am.”

Silatolu’s journey would have humbled just about any player. But Silatolu was humble long before he became a road-grading lineman.

Silatolu learned the value of hard work from his parents, Saia and Lupe, who held a series of menial-labor positions after moving to the United States from Tonga in 1985 for a better life.
And if the YouTube clips of Silatolu driving defensive linemen out of the video frame aren’t enough to quicken the pulse of Panthers fans, his college coach advised: Wait until fans see him in person.

“For a guy that no one knows anybody about, you’re going to be excited about watching him block,” Midwestern State’s Bill Maskill said. “He’s a guy that doesn’t know but one speed. He goes as hard in practice as he does in games. He just goes all the time.”

Saia and Lupe Silatolu settled in California after moving from Tonga, a country comprised of 176 islands in the south Pacific. Saia took a job at a gas station, while Lupe worked as a housekeeper at a hotel until her two sons were born 17 months apart.

When the boys were toddlers, Lupe took them to Tonga to live with her mother for a year while she returned to the States to look for work. While living in Tonga, the boys attended their uncle’s rugby games, the closest thing to American football on the island.

“As soon as they came back, you could tell they were really into football,” Lupe said. “So Saia took them to join Pop Warner.”

Silatolu played no other sports growing up. Football was his love, and everything else was a distant second – including homework.

Despite his parents’ encouragement, “Amini wasn’t really good at school,” his mother said.
After high school in Tracy, Calif., Silatolu attended San Joaquin Delta College in nearby Stockton. He started two years at left tackle, and had visits scheduled to Hawaii, California and San Jose State, as well as a scholarship offer from Tennessee.

But they all backed off after seeing Silatolu’s grades. He signed with Nevada, but was ineligible to play for a Division I school because he hadn’t finished his associate’s degree.

During an unofficial visit to Cal, one of the Bears’ coaches asked Silatolu to name his No. 1 goal, expecting him to mention NFL aspirations. Silatolu surprised him by saying he wanted to play for a four-year school.

“That’s how it all starts,” Silatolu said. “I never got ahead of myself. I just thought about the next step to get where I needed to be.”

That next step was Midwestern State, a school with an enrollment of 6,000 in Wichita Falls, Texas, and the alma mater of Dr. Phil (McGraw) of TV fame.

Within Silatolu’s first three days on campus, Maskill realized he had a devastating blocker.
“He just knocked the hell out of people,” Maskill said.

Silatolu dominated the Lone Star Conference from his left tackle position. According to Midwestern State, Silatolu was on the field for 560 pass plays during his two years with the Mustangs, and allowed a half of a sack.

Silatolu, 23, was a consensus All-American last season while anchoring the top offense in Division II in terms of total yards (531.9 yards a game) and points (48.6).

But it was the manner in which Silatolu finished blocks that caught the Panthers’ attention.

“We call it black line,” coach Ron Rivera said the night the Panthers drafted him 40th overall. “You take a guy and take him outside the black line of the (video) screen and he was just gone. That was impressive.”

Maskill told every scout who visited Wichita Falls (population, 101,000) that Silatolu was a throw-back.

“He’s mean. He’s tough. He’s nasty. He plays hurt,” Maskill said. “All the things the old guys used to do, he does it.”

Maskill said Silatolu broke his hand his first fall at Midwestern State. Doctors told him he’d be out the rest of the season. Silatolu missed two games after pins were inserted in the bone, and was back in the lineup.

Silatolu’s toughness and quiet leadership did not go unnoticed by his teammates, who voted him captain before his senior year. How unassuming was Silatolu? Maskill said he didn’t want to call the coin toss before games.

“I really don’t think he wanted to be a captain. He never got up in front of the team and spoke. He did not want to bring attention to himself,” Maskill said. “Everyone respected him for what he did, and how he did it.”

The fact that Silatolu did it against lesser competition was one of the knocks on him before the draft. Another question: How would someone not fond of textbooks handle an NFL playbook?
Silatolu said he kept his GPA around 2.5 at Midwestern so he could stay eligible. And while Maskill concedes Silatolu “wasn’t a fan of the classroom,” he’s plenty smart.

A friend of Maskill’s who is a Cleveland Browns assistant put Silatolu at the dry-erase board to diagram plays and go through blocking responsibilities. Silatolu aced it, the coach told Maskill.

Silatolu also was at the board with Carolina and wasn’t sure he did well. But when the Panthers called him the second night of the draft, he figured it must have gone better than he thought.

“He’s somebody we’re excited about,” Panthers general manager Marty Hurney said. “When you watch tape, the whole approach he takes, the physical play comes out immediately. He puts opponents on the ground. He’s a very driven young man who’s come a long way.”

Minutes after hearing from the Panthers, Silatolu got a call from his younger brother. Paul Silatolu, a Naval petty officer, was calling from the USS New York – a ship whose bow includes 7.5 tons of steel salvaged from the World Trade Center wreckage – off the coast of Italy.

It was a touching moment for the entire family. Nearly a week later, Lupe cried as she recounted the phone call between her only two children.

“It was very meaningful for us,” she said.

Though his path to the NFL was more circuitous than most of the other top picks, Silatolu never lost his way.

“I’ve always believed in myself. Football was always the main thing in my life,” he said. “I knew I always wanted to get to this point. But it doesn’t happen overnight.”

Read more here:

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Friday, May 4, 2012

In American Samoa, football's already the next big thing

When a U.S. football team begins competition in the Under-19 World Championship tournament next month at Burger Stadium, it will begin play against what will likely be a wide-eyed team of teen-agers from the South Pacific islands of American Samoa.
America needs no introduction to Samoa.
American football coaches, anyway.
For years, they've beaten a path — or rather, taken the 11-hour flights from the West Coast — to the small U.S. territory that's about the size of the Washington D.C. metropolitan area. Prominent head coaches like Urban Meyer and Mike Bellotti have made their way from their previous jobs at Utah and Oregon to the five volcanic islands that make up American Samoa to scour them for hefty linemen and physical defenders to supplement their rosters.
Oregon State just signed a linebacker and offensive lineman from American Samoa. Washington State picked up a nationally recruited tight end from there who had once committed to Alabama and a defensive lineman. About half of Hawaii's roster includes players that come from American Samoa lineage.
"Football's like a meal ticket off the island," said Hawaii middle linebacker T.J. Taimatuia, a redshirt sophomore who was born in Fagasa, American Samoa, but played his high school ball in Artesia, Calif. "It's either the military or football."
Just three weeks ago, the Marines swore in 30 teen-aged Samoan recruits, and dozens more consider the Coast Guard, Army Reserves and two Army engineering units. Otherwise, they have to try to find work at the local Starkist tuna cannery, the only one left after the Chicken of the Sea factory closed in 2009 and eliminated 3,000 jobs.
The unemployment rate for a country of about 60,000 stands at 30 percent and rising, according to Mel Purcell, a quasi-general manager for American Samoa's Under-19 national team.
"Football is opportunities," said Purcell, whose three sons all played the sport, one of them a former Hawaiian player who was drafted by the Cleveland Browns, and another a Penn State linebacker. "Football is an avenue to leave home, get a better education and get to the next level. The NFL is really icing on the cake."
Go through any Pac-12 roster, said Hawaii assistant coach Tony Tuioti, who leaves for a recruiting trip to New Zealand and Australia on Thursday, and "there'd probably be at least 10 players minimum of Samoan descent." And Samoan players are starting to pop up in the SEC; Tuioti said Hawaii recruited a Samoan guard who ended up signing with LSU.
Football first came to American Samoa in the 1960s, when ex-Washington Redskins linebacker Al Lolotai, a former pro wrestler in Hawaii, brought the game to his native land and NFL games were later televised on Blue Sky cable. The Samoans took to it like their favorite dish, palusami, which these large extended families serve during huge feasts on Sundays that always included church and the NFL, not necessarily in that order since the games air at 5 a.m. in the South Pacific.
"That's like caviar to Polynesians," Tuioti said, referring to the local delicacy of corned beef and coconut milk with onions wrapped in taro or spinach leaves. "Samoans have such a passion for football. They have the most football players per capita of almost any country. It's like the Dominican Republic producing baseball players."
More than 200 American Samoans now dot Division I college rosters, and 30 have progressed to the NFL, none more famous than Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu. He's immensely popular in Samoa — his parents were born there — and he returned there last year with donations of football equipment and uniforms.
They're also partial to current and former NFL players with Samoan ties, like Chargers and Patriots linebacker Junior Seau, Bengals defensive tackle Domata Peko and Patriots defensive lineman Jonathan Fanene and Raiders quarterback Marques Tuiasosopo, although America Samoa produces very few skill-position players.
By nature as well as body structure and diet, Samoan football players are both aggressive and big-boned. That's one of the reasons American recruiters relish them. They're disciplined and, because they're not always promised three meals, they tend to still be growing.
"A player will come over to the mainland at 6-2, and then he'll be 6-5 and 300 pounds," Tuioti said.
"Samoans like contact. They like to hit things," Tuioti said. "That's why you see most of them on defense, but you're starting to see more and more offensive linemen. We're starting to get some fullbacks because they're similar to linebackers in body type, but we don't have many wideouts that have flat-out speed."
The game played at American Samoa's six high schools leans heavy to the run game. Hawaii running back Joey Iosefa is a converted 190-pound quarterback who played at the island's powerhouse program at Fagaitua High, which again won last season's championship. Iosefa's weight has grown to 240 pounds.
American Samoa also has won six of the last eight Samoa Bowls that pit the island's best team against Hawaii's second-tier players. Coaching clinics are all the rage. A youth football league was formed a year ago. Everything's on the rise.
But American Samoa, as the eighth and last seed in the Under-19 World Championship starting June 30, drew the top-seeded Yanks for its first of three games.
"We have to go up against the biggest giant in football," Purcell sighed.
And if American Samoa springs the upset?
"We'll be able to swim home," Purcell said. "We wouldn't need a plane."

Monday, April 30, 2012

Jake Muasau Agrees to Terms w/ the New York Giants

Georgia State linebacker Jake Muasau has agreed to terms on a free-agent contract with the New York Giants, reported on Sunday.
Muasau  wasn’t drafted but is the second Panther to join a NFL team after Christo Bilukidi was selected by the Raiders in the sixth round of the NFL draft on Saturday.
Muasau, 6-feet, 1-inch tall and 243 pounds, was one of the top playmakers for coach Bill Curry in the team’s first two seasons.
He had 106 tackles with 16.5 tackles for loss and three interceptions. He also forced four fumbles and recovered four fumbles.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Stanford WR Owusu Will Sign w/ 49ers

Stanford wide receiver Chris Owusu will sign with the 49ers as an undrafted free agent, his agent confirmed tonight.
Projected as at least a mid-round pick before his senior season, Owusu went undrafted due to concerns about his injury history. He had three concussions in a 13-month span during the latter part of his college career. Owusu had two concussions in three weeks during his senior season and missed Stanford’s final four games.
At the NFL combine, Owusu’s 40-yard dash time (4.36 seconds) matched the fastest by a wide receiver. His broad jump (10 feet, 9 inches) ranked second among wideouts, and his vertical jump (40.5 inches) was third.
Limited to 10 starts in his final two seasons, Owusu had 60 catches for 772 yards and five touchdowns as a junior and senior. He could also have value as a returner. As a sophomore, he tied a record in what was then the Pac-10 by returning three kickoffs for touchdowns. He had six kickoff returns of 50-plus yards in his career.
* Stanford defensive lineman Matt Masifilo just stopped by the media trailer after signing with the 49ers as an undrafted free agent. Masifilo said Stanford safety Michael Thomas will also sign with the team and reunite with Jim Harbaugh.
Masifilo became the first undrafted rookie to sign a free-agent contract, driving over to Santa Clara from Palo Alto.
“Coach Harbaugh likes to cut drag,” Masifilo said. “He said it’s a competition to get down here as fast you can.”
Masifilo beat Owusu to the 49ers headquarters. Owusu is at home in Southern California.
“That’s probably … the last race I’ll ever beat Chris in,” the 6-3, 300-pound Masifilo said.

(Chris Owusu 2012 NFL Combine Workout Video Link)

Washington Redskins Sign Undrafted NT Vaughn Meatoga

The Washington Redskins have reportedly signed Hawaii nose tackle Vaughn Meatoga, according to He was left undrafted, but has the size and tenacity to compete for playing time at the most important position on theRedskins' 3-4 defense.
Meatoga is a studious lineman who possesses tremendous balance and leverage. He uses his hands well and is aggressive enough to hold up at the point of attack and violently shed blockers.
At only 294 pounds, he is maybe a little too small for the modern prototype NFL nose tackle position. However, his ability to be active inside and use his initial quickness to shift along the line and create pressure, can be assets to the Redskins.
Some 3-4 schemes have benefited from a smaller player on the nose, and in some ways Meatoga can be compared to former NFL pro Jason Ferguson. Drafted in the seventh round of the 1997 draft by Bill Parcells, Ferguson enjoyed a highly productive career anchoring 3-4 defenses for the New York JetsDallas Cowboys and Miami Dolphins.
Meatoga joins cornerback Chase Minnifield as the second marquee rookie free agent signed by the Redskins. Both additions are smart moves, adding depth and potential at key positions.
Meatoga will be given the opportunity to compete with 2011 seventh-rounder Chris Neild for playing time in a rotation with veteran Barry Cofield.