Former NFL player Tosi signs with the Wild
VETERAN PRESENCE: Coach says his leadership will help on and off field.
By VAN WILLIAMS
Anchorage Daily News
(Published: May 25, 2007)
Mao Tosi, the former NFL player who returned to Anchorage after his playing days to mentor at-risk teenagers, is returning to the gridiron with the Alaska Wild.
Except this time he's using football to promote the dreams of others as opposed to his own.
Tosi, 30, on Thursday signed with the Wild -- the state's first professional indoor football team -- and will start at defensive end when Alaska hosts the Katy Ruff Riders on Saturday night at Sullivan Arena. The 1995 East High graduate is a former NFL defensive lineman with the Arizona Cardinals in 2000 and 2001.
Being the Wild's lone player with NFL experience isn't the only thing that makes the 6-foot-6, 315-pound Tosi stand out. So does the fact he will donate his $225 weekly salary toward a scholarship fund for his youth group, the Communities In Schools Pride Club.
"I'm trying to build pride in these kids. I don't have any type of foundation," said Tosi.
"I've told kids, 'You're going to college, don't worry about (the money).' And that was months ago. I wasn't able to come through, so I had to think of a way to get things picked up. Here I am."
Tosi's presence is expected to give the 0-6 Wild -- the only winless team in the Intense Football League -- a lift defensively. They enter Week 7 having allowed a league-high 316 points, including 73 last week against the Frisco Thunder.
But Alaska coach Hans Deemer believes Tosi could be a greater asset off the field.
"His veteran leadership, that's what's really gonna help us," Deemer said.
Tosi was an all-state football and basketball player at East High and in 1995 was named Class 4A Player of the Year in basketball. He was recruited for hoops at Idaho with the agreement that he could try out for the football team. But it was on the gridiron where Tosi excelled, earning all-Big West Conference honors in 1999.
In 2000, the Arizona Cardinals drafted him in the fifth round and he eventually became one of eight Alaskans to play in the NFL. He started 11 of his 26 career games, collecting 43 tackles, one sack and one forced fumble.
He's a long way from the NFL, but that doesn't matter to Tosi. He's not coming out of retirement for another shot at the limelight. Instead, he hopes signing with the Wild will put the spotlight on his Communities In Schools Pride Club, a first-year group of 30 to 50 teenagers, some of who are classified as at-risk youth.
Tosi and two dozen "kids," as he likes to say, performed a traditional Polynesian dance prior to the Wild's home opener last month.
"The next day kids were coming up to me asking, 'How do I join?' " he said. "It's a recruiting tool. Get these kids off the streets."
At the same time, he hopes to help the Wild get their first victory. It's tough to anticipate Tosi's impact on Saturday's game, given that he hasn't put on pads since his days in the NFL. He looked exhausted after Thursday's practice the CellularOne Sports Center.
"I'm hurtin' man," Tosi said with a smile. "My neck is killing me."
Still, Deemer is sure Tosi's presence will pay off.
"I really don't think he's got enough juice to make it through four quarters in arena football. He learned that today," Deemer said. "He's like our other guys, though. He's got the heart of a lion and he'll give everything he has every down."
Daily News reporter Van Williams can be reached at email@example.com.