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Thursday, August 09, 2007

Dolphins add 5 Samoans, typify the islands' growing influx in NFL

BY ANTONIO GONZALEZ

ASSOCIATED PRESS WRITER

DAVIE, Fla. -- Several rookies who share one corner of the Miami Dolphins' locker room quickly formed a bond by eating together, studying playbooks together and telling jokes they say only a Samoan would find funny.

They've helped formed the "Samoan Block" - a group of six players of Polynesian descent. Five are from Samoa and one from Tonga, a neighboring island.

"It's just a little dot on the map," rookie defensive tackle Paul Soliai said.

But the South Pacific islands have long been fertile territory for the NFL, especially this year for the Dolphins.

There's Soliai, center Samson Satele, fullback Reagan Mauia, guard Tala Esera and defensive tackle Brian Soi, each a rookie. Defensive tackle Steve Fifita is Tongan and a second-year pro.

Their home is a series of Polynesian islands that are divided between the independent nation of Samoa and American Samoa, a territory of the United States, that have a combined population of about 250,000. Despite the small size, the Samoas have produced an abundance of outstanding football players - an ESPN study in 2002 estimated that a Samoan is 40 times more likely to reach the NFL than a boy growing up in the 50 states.

The Samoan Dolphins say they're not trying to segregate from the team by hanging out together; they just "understand each other," Soi said. He and Soliai are even related - they're second cousins.

"Samoans are all about respect," said Soliai, born and raised in Pago Pago, American Samoa. "You have to give it, and you have to earn it. We know that. It makes it easy to live when you have so many people on the same team that understand you."

The Samoan Dolphins communicate in their native language, but also speak fluent English. Rookie quarterback John Beck, who learned some Samoan at Brigham Young, is an honorary member of the group. They call him "the half Samoan," and his locker is also stationed on the Samoan Block.

"They called me palagi, or white boy," at BYU, Beck said. "Really, though, they are the coolest people you will ever meet."

Some 6,000 miles from Samoa, South Florida offers few comparisons - other than the steamy weather - but the six players say they haven't had a problem adjusting. Even though Samoan towns often have "one street, maybe," crowded Miami hasn't worn them down, Soliai said.

"We're always hanging around each other," Soliai said. "We're always helping each other out."

The five Samoan rookies were acquired by new coach Cam Cameron. He said the team didn't gear its draft strategy toward the island, but he likes the attitude of the Samoans and appreciates their bond.

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