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Wednesday, October 25, 2006

San Diego Chargers: Brandon Manumaleuna

Manumaleuna a good fit for Chargers

Tuesday, Oct 24, 2006
By Tom Shanahan,

Chargers tight end Brandon Manumalenua was still a member of the St. Louis Rams when he was home in Los Angeles the first day of April’s two-day NFL draft and realized he would soon be playing for a new team.

First he saw the Rams, with new coach Scott Linehan, draft Colorado tight end Joe Klopfenstein in the second round. Then the Rams reached for a tight end again by taking USC’s Dominique Byrd in the third round.

“The writing was kind of on the wall that I would be traded,” Manumalenua said. “They were going in a different direction, and it was something I had to accept.”

What Manumaleuna didn’t know at the time is that he would be traded in less than 24 hours and that he would be enjoying somewhat of a Southern California homecoming when the Chargers acquired him in a trade.

“It was exciting to me to be coming close to home and it would be a new experience,” said Manumaleuna, who grew up in Torrance and played at San Pedro’s Narbonne High. “I also knew I was coming to a good team.”

Chargers general manager A.J. Smith made acquiring Manumaleuna his first move of the second day of the draft when he sent a fourth-round pick, the 113th choice overall, to the Rams. Smith saw the 6-foot-2, 288-pounder filling a void in the Chargers’ offense. Even in the 2004 AFC West championship season, the Chargers didn’t have a big-body tight end to help block for the running game.

Manumaleuna, a fourth-round draft pick in 2001 out of Arizona, faces his old team Sunday when the 4-2 Rams of the NFC West visit Qualcomm Stadium to play the 4-2 Chargers of the AFC West in an important game for both teams.

“It will be fun to see some of the guys because I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye when I was traded,” Manumaleuna said. “But I’m approaching it as just another game we need to win. I’m going to play hard and hope we come out victorious.”

Six games into the season Manumaleuna has contributed to the passing game as well as playing his role as a blocking tight end. He caught a one-yard touchdown pass Sunday when the Chargers rallied to tie the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium before falling, 30-27. There was some irony in scoring at Kansas City since his father, Frank, was a linebacker for the Chiefs from 1979-81.

For the season, Manumaleuna has caught nine passes for 43 yards and one touchdown. He caught 66 passes in five seasons with the Rams, with a best of 29 receptions in 2003.

Although he understands blocking is his primary role, Manumaleuna is like any former high school basketball player. The former All-Pac-10 tight end sees himself as an athlete who can make athletic plays and not be just a big, powerful body.

“I caught the ball more in college,” Manumaleuna said. “At first early in your career, you want to be a receiving tight end, but as you get later in your career you’re more concerned with winning than individual stats. I’m just concerned with getting a Super Bowl ring.“

Something else he wants to establish during his time playing for the Chargers is a connection with the area’s Samoan community.

“It’s always a good thing to have a Samoan playing for the Chargers or doing well anywhere,” said Pulu Poumele, a former NFL player who is Samoan and now a teacher and assistant football coach at Oceanside High. “We look for those long names with a lot of vowels. There really wasn‘t time to connect with him when he was traded, because he has a lot of family in Los Angeles. But we hope to use him as a resource.”

Samoan football stars have long been a presence in San Diego high school and college football. The Chargers have been identified with the career of Junior Seau ever since the Oceanside High alumnus was drafted in 1990 and played 13 seasons for the Bolts. Seau is expected to be the first Samoan inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.

Poumele said the Samoan community in Oceanside and surrounding communities hopes to welcome Manumaleuna in offseason activities such as the Fourth of July celebration with Oceanside’s sister city, Pago Pago in America Samoa.

“I’m all about helping kids,” Manumaleuna said. “The youth don’t always see the bigger picture when they’re in high school if there aren’t adults out there to tell them there is more to life. Fortunately I had people around me to help me understand that, and I try to help kids in the same way.

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