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Tuesday, August 15, 2006

He's one hair of a guy

Article on Arizona freshman Conan Amituana'i. Conan will also be on the 2006 AIGA Foundation Poster.

He's one hair of a guy

Despite his namesake, Conan is no barbarian
By Ryan Finley
Arizona Daily Star Tucson, Arizona |
Published: 08.14.2006

Conan Amituanai — given the name Conan by his father who liked Arnold Schwarzenegger — becomes very emotional when talking about his late mother.

Arizona's newest freshman sensation sports a wild, caramel-colored Afro and a band of tribal tattoos, but his appearance belies a much more sensitive personality.
The UA's Conan Amituanai was named after Conan the Barbarian by his father who was a steady weightlifter and fan of Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Amituanai revels in his image, but the real Amituanai flashes a frequent smile that can be both angelic and devilish and laughs easily and often, even around strangers.

His eyes twinkle as he explains for the umpteenth time how to pronounce his last name — "Ah-me-too-uh-nigh. Just pronounce all the vowels, brah," he says with a twinge of the islands in his voice — and talks about growing up a member of the Tuiasosopo football family, a clan that includes UA defensive line coach Mike Tuiasosopo.
But the freshman's eyes moisten as the conversation takes an unexpected turn.
He's trying to explain why he plays football, not how he plays, when emotions seem to get the better of him.

"I'm doing this for a much bigger purpose. If I was doing this for myself, I honestly wouldn't try all that hard," Amituanai says. "I do this for my family members who couldn't be here to see me."
His voice softens.
"You know, my mom passed away when I was 13. She's Coach Tui's older sister. Aima. Died of cardiac arrest. She was 38, really young."
All of this helps explain why young Conan, a defensive tackle/tight end, decided to join the UA football team.
It's about family — not the clich├ęd team-family concept that coaches throw around like pigskins, but blood family. Amituanai will spend the next four years learning under Tuiasosopo.
Along the way, both are determined to build a relationship that would make Aima proud.
"I used to go watch him play Little League all the time, but this is different," Tuiasosopo said. "Him coming here gives me a chance to get to know him, coach him and spend time with him."
Tuiasosopo, the only coach in a family famous for its athletes, spent most of the last decade on the recruiting trail as an assistant at Utah State, Utah and the UA.
Tuiasosopo would visit Conan and the rest of the family during recruiting trips to Los Angeles. He would stay at Aima's house and catch up with his young nephew.
Football was often the topic of conversation.
"I think he started to recruit me when I was like 6," Conan said. "Every time he'd come by, he'd be like 'How's your grades, man? How's football?' "
Football, for Conan, was always good. He used his 6-foot-4-inch, 280-pound frame and Samoan intensity to become one of the Los Angeles area's best players in a region packed with talent. Amituanai played his junior year at Los Alamitos before finishing at national powerhouse Long Beach Poly.
He turned down Cal and Washington to come to the UA.
"In the end, it was about trying to build something at a place where I could contribute both ways," he said. "I came here, and I just had an awesome (official) visit. I was talking to some of the guys when I was here, and we all agreed that, hey, we can wake some people up. We can be a lot better."

Amituanai's arrival at the UA marked a job well done for his father, Vincent, and the handful of aunts and uncles who helped raise him after his mother's death.
Vincent Amituanai promised his son a new car if he could get a college scholarship. When Conan's new Scion was broken into earlier this month, Vincent returned to town to install an alarm.
He stuck around to watch an afternoon of practice and catch up with his brother-in-law.
"I enjoy visiting my kids and watching them play," Vincent said. "That's what I live for. His mom was the same way. Her whole life was about her kids, and raising them right."
For now, she has succeeded.
Amituanai is adjusting to college life, and he tries to visit Tuiasosopo and his family as much as possible. Tuiasosopo's three children, especially son Titus, have gravitated to their cousin.

Conan Amituanai, appearing at media day earlier this month, was attracted to the UA because his uncle Mike Tuiasosopo is an assistant coach for the Wildcats.

"The whole family, I feel like we've gotten real close this whole summer," Amituanai said. "Coach Mike is a coach when he needs to be a coach and an uncle when he needs to be an uncle."
Tuiasosopo thinks he's more than that.
"In many ways," he said, "I look at Conan not as a nephew but as a son."

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