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Sunday, August 13, 2006

UH Football-Samson Satele: Respect works both way for UH center

Another good article from Honolulu Advertiser beat writer Stephen Tsai on UH Center Samson Satele.

Posted on: Sunday, August 13, 2006

Respect works both ways for UH center

By Stephen Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer

For Fa'alata Satele, every day is Father's Day.

"I don't know where I would be without my dad," said Samson Satele, the University of Hawai'i football team's starting center and undisputed leader.

Fa'alata introduced his son to football and good manners. Fa'alata calls every guy by the same first name — "Mister."

"He taught me to be respectful of other people," Samson recalled. "When I was in high school, I never respected anybody. A father is going to discipline you if you're not being respectful. I got tired of being disciplined. I learned my lesson, and now I show respect to everyone."

Fa'alata has opened his home to all of Samson's cousins on the team — running back Nate Ilaoa, offensive linemen Larry Sauafea, Raphael Ieru and Hercules Satele, defensive end Melila Purcell III and outside linebackers Amani Purcell and Brashton Satele.

"All Samoans are related," Samson said, smiling.

On the real Father's Day, Fa'alata receives the same gift.

"I give him a big hug," Samson said. "He loves it. He knows there's a lot of love between us. He'll always love me until the day he dies, and I'll always love him until the day I die. My whole life, he helped me make the right decisions."

Samson has missed the past three days of practice because of a sore right Achilles tendon. That allowed him to sit down with The Advertiser and discuss his full house, the bald-headed coach who broke his heart, and why somebody named Samson should never cut his hair.

On his first name:

"My dad told me the story that when he was a junior in high school, he had a dream where he named his son 'Samson.' He wrote 'Samson' on his Bible. When I was born, in '84, he named me Samson. Whatever child came out, he was going to name the baby 'Samson.' I'm glad it was me and not my sister."

On living at his paternal grandparents' home in Kalihi this summer:

"My grandma and grandpa always had so much love. She welcomes anybody. It's a pretty big house — big enough to hold my cousins. It holds 15 of us. I was dorming the last four years, but I'll be staying there this fall. Plus, it's closer than when I was living on the Windward side. Driving in from the Windward side takes, like, an hour, with all of the traffic. It's only 10 minutes from Kalihi to school."

On his introduction to football:

"Football is the first sport I ever watched on TV. I fell in love with it. I loved the contact. I was looking up to people who played football. I always wanted to be one of those guys. Hopefully, I can be somebody's idol.

"I played for the first time when I was 6. I was too heavy, but they let me play, anyway. I had to lose weight to play.

"My idol was (offensive lineman) Larry Allen, because I liked the Dallas Cowboys. I always watched them pull (the guards). He was big, but he could get very low. When he made contact, it was over."

On becoming an offensive lineman:

"I started playing d-end. I moved to linebacker. One day, my dad sat me down, and he told me, 'To get to the next level, you have to play offensive line.' I was in the ninth grade. I listened to him, and look what happened."

On growing up in Hawai'i:

"We moved all over. I've been to 11 different schools. We've been moving back and forth, going from Kane'ohe to Kalihi, Kane'ohe to Kailua, Kahalu'u, Kaimuki. Every 'K' out there. I had a choice to go to Kahuku, Kailua or Kamehameha (for high school). I went to Kailua."

On his next move:

"My mom just got granted (Hawaiian Homestead) land in Waimanalo. My (maternal) grandma was on the waiting list until the day she died, but she never got it. She put my mom on the list.

"I wasn't there when my mom was granted the land. My sister called me. She was there, and she was all happy. My mother was happy. There were 1,000 people there, and only 100 got called.

"My mom said because (my grandma) is buried in Hilo, she wants all of us to go to Hilo and thank her for everything she's done. Hopefully, we'll name the house after her."

On being recruited by Brigham Young, which is administered by the Mormon church:

"I'm Mormon, and proud to be Mormon. (BYU coaches) recruited me hard, because they knew I was Mormon and part of the LDS church. But I knew I wanted to stay in Hawai'i.

"The day before UH beat BYU, 72-45 (in 2001), I verbally committed to UH. The (BYU) coaches were down here. They wanted to have dinner. I told them I chose Hawai'i. I didn't want anyone else on my back, and I always wanted to go to UH."

On his relationship with 5-foot-6 Mike Cavanaugh, who was coaching UH's offensive linemen at the time:

"It wasn't that hard of a decision (to pick UH). Coach Cav was recruiting me since I was a junior. I had trust in him, coming out of high school. He taught me a lot of things.

"Everybody was like a son to Cav. Every O-lineman, no matter who you were. You could be a nobody coming to Hawai'i, and coach Cav will make you into somebody.

"The first time I saw him, he was a cool guy. It was like, 'We want you,' and all of that. I didn't look at him as being a tough guy until we went onto the field. Then it was, 'There went that little guy.'

"When I stepped on that field for the first time, I heard him yelling, swearing. He got me moving just yelling and swearing. I thank him for that. I like it when coaches yell — well, not every time — but when they're on you, they're coaching you. When coaches are not talking to me, something's wrong. That's the way I look at it.

"I could talk to him about anything. Whatever I say to him, stays with me, him and the four walls. He kept it like that. We all had trust in him. He used to eat dinner with us on Thursdays, just to get the O-line together as a unit, just to make us comfortable with him. That was a good thing."

On Cavanaugh's resignation in February 2005 to coach at Oregon State:

"It was hard, but he made sure he called all of us before he announced the decision. Family comes first. You've got to take care of your family before you take care of others. He was taking care of his family. He made a good choice. We can't act like we died. Life goes on. We have to pick it up.

"But I was hurt. I thought he would leave after my class (graduated). I guess he had other plans. He stayed here and coached me for three years. I learned a lot from him. I wanted him to stay longer, so I could learn more.

"After he left, I didn't talk to him for a long time. I was kind of mad at him. I was sad, but more mad."

On making up with Cavanaugh:

"He came back that summer (in 2005) to visit. I saw him, and he was the same guy, just yelling and more yelling."

On adjusting to life without Cavanaugh:

"At first it was hard, because you didn't know what to expect. We had a good leader in (center) Derek Fa'avi. He told us to respect whoever was going to coach us. In the back of our minds, you hear Cav's voice telling you what you did wrong. When Cav left, Derek took over as the leader of the pack. I thank Derek for that. He kept my head in there. He kept everybody's head in there. Derek was like a step-dad. He was funny. He knew when to work. Derek was open to everybody. He talked to anybody. He would be your friend if you were alone. He was a great leader and set good examples for us."

On establishing his role as a leader last week by scolding teammates for breaking a team rule:

"When I heard guys weren't disciplined and guys weren't respecting coaches, somebody had to step up.

"It's not my team. It's everybody's team. If you disrespect the coach, he's not going to coach you. My dad always said, 'Never show respect to anybody who doesn't show respect.' I was looking around to see if somebody would step up, but nobody did. I told myself I wasn't going to be that vocal person. But if I have to do it, I'll do it.

"A couple of guys came up to me after practice and said, 'Good speech. We never knew you had that in you.' I always had it in me. My dad always told me I'm a leader. But I wanted to be a leader by example, not by yelling."

On Dennis McKnight, who will help Wes Suan coach the offensive line this season:

"He's like a bigger version of Cav. You can't get away with anything because he's always watching the films. He's learning, too, while he's coaching. He's watching every little detail, from your footwork to your hands and head. He knows what to do and what not to do at a certain time or play. He's very strict on technique. If you're bad on technique, he's going to correct you, no matter if it takes five minutes or 10 minutes or how many minutes.

"He's intimidating to look at. He's a very big guy. The first time I saw him was in the spring. It was like, 'Who is this guy?' He was a beast. I found out he was the special teams coach back in '99. When I found out he was coming, I was very scared of him and what he was going to do to us. He's very intense. Very loud. Very intimidating. I trust him, just like I trust coach Cav. I can go into his office at any time. I can tell him anything. I like the guy."

On playing with injuries:

"I hurt my (left) shoulder (two years ago). I never really thought about it every game. If I hurt something during practice, I won't tell anybody, unless it's really sore. If it's sore, I'll let it go. But if I can't walk or move, I'll tell the trainers. But this shoulder thing, I didn't think it was bad. I just wanted to play because I love this game a lot. My shoulder wasn't really bothering me until my sophomore year. Then I checked it out with the doctor. The ligaments were messed up. I had surgery. Everything is all fixed. It's like a brand new shoulder."

On his decision to return for his senior season instead of declaring for the NFL draft as a junior:

"I wanted to finish school. I talked to a lot of people about staying or going. Cav told me I was in a win-win situation. I could go to the NFL and make money, or stay in college and try to win a WAC championship, and get to hang out with my cousins. I love college. I couldn't lose with my decision.

"My mom and dad told me that no matter what I decided, I shouldn't worry about the money. They would take care of me.

"I thought it was a hard decision, but my parents knew I wanted to stay. I wanted to see (cousin) Brashton (Satele) play his first season, and I wanted to be on the same team with Colt (Brennan), Davone (Bess), Ryan (Grice-Mullins), Jason Rivers and, well, the list goes on and on."

On moving from left guard to center:

"I'm going to miss pulling (as a guard). Maybe I can try to be a pulling center.

"My favorite play (as a guard) was 'Tampa Right.' We ran that a bunch. I start pulling, and whoever's in front, I just hit him.

"(Moving to center) is something coach Jones wanted me to to do for the team. But in the long run, it's going to help me out. It might help me get to the next level.

"Because I started for three years next to Derek, I learned a lot. Derek was the smartest center."

On his fellow linemen:

"Every year we have a barbecue. Last year, we had it at Ala Moana. The year before, we had it at (Tala Esera's) place. This year we had it at the water park. Almost everybody came. Three or four guys were on the Mainland. We had steak, chicken, ribs. I like to barbecue. I can cook anything. That's why Sam Choy has my name."

On his free time:

"I like to stay home with my family. I like to hang out with my sisters.

"(Tiatti) was taller than me for a while. It was bad. She's a year younger, and she was taller than me when she was in the fifth grade. I was short. I would get mad because she was taller. My dad said my sister was going to stop growing at a certain point, and I was going to start growing. I would try to stretch myself and eat right. Being shorter than my sister was not a good thing. When she was taller than me, I would not stand next to her. I would sit down whenever I would see her. I'm taller now. I grew to 6-3. She's 5-9."

On his long hair:

"I always wanted my hair to be long. Every time I saw my grandma, she told me to cut my hair. I cut my hair my freshman year (at UH). I grew it out, and I'm used to it. I haven't cut it since. I want it to be as long as it can be. You know the story about Samson. It wasn't good for Samson to cut his hair."

Reach Stephen Tsai at

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