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Thursday, February 01, 2007

Freddie Keiaho first Fijian to play in the Super Bowl

Aztecs' Keiaho big hitter with Colts

He'll be first from Fiji to play in Super Bowl

STAFF WRITER

February 1, 2007

MIAMI – Fiji. Think of a magic island, the ocean lapping at its shores, palm trees waving in the breezes wafting in off the Pacific and the most languorous of lifestyles.

Now think of Freddie Keiaho, hitting ball carriers with enough gusto to rearrange the bars on the face mask of his Indianapolis Colts headgear.

The images might not seem compatible, but Keiaho, a native of Fiji who was schooled at San Diego State, is making them so. In Sunday's Super Bowl XLI, he is to become the first Fijian to play in one of these things.

“That's something to be proud of,” Keiaho said yesterday.

How he has conducted himself through his rookie season with the Colts also is something he can value. Said Indianapolis Star columnist Bob Kravitz: “He hasn't played all that much because there are concerns he won't always be in the right place, but when he has, he has just blown guys up. They like him.”

Said Rob Morris, the linebacker whose arrival on the strong side of the Indianapolis defense has had a strong bearing on the team being where it is:

“Freddie is not afraid to hit. He's not shy.”

At one point this season, Keiaho said Colts equipment managers inspected his headgear and found the bars had become separated because of the concussive blows he had been delivering. The man leads with his face when he is making a tackle.

“And I try to get my hips under me,” he said. As he did in one instance that sticks in his mind and likely in Kevin Faulk's mind, since it was the New England running back he hit.

Faulk went slack. “Yeah,” Keiaho said, “when you make a big hit, you feel 'em kind of go weightless. You feel you have control over 'em.”

Keiaho also put a thunderous shot on Larry Johnson while the Colts were eliminating the Kansas City Chiefs in a wild-card game. “But he's a lot bigger than Faulk, so I didn't get him as weightless as I wanted,” he said.

On Sunday, if you're looking for Keiaho, look for his No. 54 on special teams and aligning as an outside linebacker in the Colts' goal-line defense. He would be the 5-foot-11, 226-pounder laying the big hits.

Like many of Tony Dungy's defenders, Keiaho is a speed player who said he has run 4.5s. “You can be a big linebacker, you can be a big safety, but if you can't strike, it doesn't help,” he said.

“Strike” is a word one hears frequently around the Colts. It's what they do. They “strike.” Only Keiaho wasn't doing any striking through the preseason, much of which he had to sit out after suffering a knee injury.

Before being hurt, however, Keiaho had shown the Colts enough that there never was any question the third-round draft pick would make the club, even though he was disappointed in how he performed at the scouting combine.

The Colts, according to Keiaho, admired his ability to play faster than his times would suggest. He further believes he received sound grounding as a linebacker from his SDSU position coach, Andy Buh, now at Stanford.

“Probably the best linebacker coach in the country,” Keiaho said, ticking off the names of other linebackers who have gone from SDSU to success in the NFL. Kirk Morrison of the Raiders. Matt McCoy of the Eagles. Heath Farwell of the Vikings.

Keiaho came to the mainland with his parents when he was 2. The family settled in El Cajon. It later would move to Ventura. At 11, Keiaho returned to Fiji to live with a stepfather until he was 13.

Outside the Fort Lauderdale hotel where the Colts are quartered this week were the waters of the Atlantic. “It's great for me to see water again,” Keiaho said. “I hadn't seen it for six months.”

He has seen snow.

“I'm not used to shoveling,” he acknowledged. But in Indianapolis he has been able to purchase a four-bedroom home for a fraction of what it would have cost in San Diego.

“I couldn't have bought a closet for the same price in San Diego,” he said.

Life in Indianapolis does have its advantages, Keiaho has found.

“You can find a parking place without driving around for 20 minutes,” he said.


Jerry Magee: (619) 293-1830; jerry.magee@uniontrib.com

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