Article Last Updated: 01/27/2008 08:20:25 AM MS
Growing up near the Mormon-dominated town of Laie, Hawaii, on the north shore of Oahu, Anthony "Ants" Siilata figured he would eventually play college football at the University of Utah, following a pipeline of Kahuku High players to attend either Utah or Brigham Young.
Teammate Benji Kemoeatu is "sailing on the same ship," Siilata said, after both visited Utah's campus last weekend. Kemoeatu's older brothers, Chris and Ma'ake, starred before moving on to the NFL.
But other schools - most notably Oregon State of the Pac-10 - are heavily recruiting the powerful linemen, and have made strong pitches for their services, despite reports (that Siilata refutes) that the duo orally committed to the Utes last Sunday.
Siilata said Thursday that he and Kemoeatu will visit OSU this coming week, while Tachibana will check out Hawaii's campus.
The players' stories illustrate how coveted Polynesian football players - formally referred to as Pacific Islanders - have become, not just to Utah and BYU, but to schools in the major conferences.
"Polynesian players are very important to our success," said Paul Tidwell, recruiting coordinator at BYU, which, is believed to be in the running along with USC for linebacker Uona Kavienga, one of the top Polynesian players in the country. "They are good athletes as well as good people. It is a great connection to have. There has always been a rich tradition at BYU with the Polynesian athlete, and we love them in our program."
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham echoed those sentiments a few weeks ago, saying that the Utes will continue to focus their recruiting efforts on Hawaii, Utah and California, states with a high percentage of Polynesians. And Weber State coach Ron McBride, who is largely credited with opening the pipeline of Polynesians when he was at Utah, said they are critical to a program's success.
"They are just tough, hard-nosed, hard-working kids," McBride said. "Awesome kids."
Utah's own Lynn Katoa of Cottonwood High recently chose Colorado, eschewing big dogs Texas, Oklahoma and LSU. Neither BYU nor Utah had much of a shot at Katoa, referred to in recruiting lingo as a five-star recruit, the best of the best. Siilata said just a few days after he returned from Salt Lake City he received an in-home visit from Utah assistant Kalani Sitake, and he expects a visit from Whittingham this week. Tidwell said BYU defensive coordinator Jaime Hill was in Hawaii last week, and head coach Bronco Mendenhall will make the trip this week to meet with a defensive back
(presumably Shiloah Te'o) who already has committed.
Pacific Islanders commitments
Player, High School/Juco, College
Derek Tuimauga, Bingham, Utah
Sealver Siliga, Copper Hills, Utah
Kendrick Moeai, Copper Hills, Utah
Siaki Cravens, Temecula, Calif., Utah
Aiona Key, Mt. San Antonio CC, Utah
Michael Alisa, Timpview, BYU
Shiloah Te'o, Kahuku, Haw., BYU
Seta Pohahua, Aragon, Calif., BYU
Iona Pritchard, Bingham, BYU
Jessie Taufi, Long Beach CC, BYU
Tolu Moala, El Camino CC, BYU
Solomone Kafu, Rio Linda, Calif., BYU
Masi Tuitama, Pacifica, Calif., BYU
Tevita Hola, Granger/Snow, BYU
Note: At least four other Pacific Islanders have committed to BYU or Utah, but are not listed above because they have visited other programs or will visit other programs after making the pledge.
In other words, the local schools spare no expense in keeping the pipeline going.
"There is such a high percentage of Polynesian members of the [LDS] church, that it is a natural thing for us to recruit some of them," said BYU offensive coordinator Robert Anae, who grew up in Hawaii. "And a lot of them love to play this game, so we get a pretty good pick of pretty good athletes that can keep in line with the Honor Code as well."
However, Anae, when asked specifically about the difficulties of recruiting Polynesian athletes, broached a subject that is not often discussed publicly by college coaches, but is apparently substantial enough to at least generate a name.
It is called the Poly Commit - the notion that a so-called oral commitment from a Polynesian player at times cannot be taken literally.
Anae and Kahuku's Siilata acknowledged that it exists to a degree, while McBride and others called it utter hogwash. BYU's Tidwell politely declined to discuss it.
The topic has surfaced locally because of what has happened with the reported commitments of the Kahuku players to Utah and with Kavienga, who was quoted by the Web site totalbluesports.com as saying he had committed to BYU, only to visit USC a few days later.
"It is very disengenuous to single out a particular group such as Polynesians for making soft commitments or de-committing when white kids and black kids often do the same thing," said Chris Fetters, a Scout.com recruiting analyst who has covered Hawaii, Utah and the Pacific Northwest for more than a decade.
Certainly, players of all races and ethnicities have been known to de-commit or visit another school after giving their word. Bingham's four-star tight end Austin Holt went on trips to Stanford and Florida, for instance, after committing to BYU nearly a year ago.
Hamani Stevens, a four-star Polynesian recruit from Hemet, Calif., who has narrowed his choices to BYU and Oregon, was puzzled by the mere suggestion of a difference, as was Bingham's Iona Pritchard, who has committed to BYU.
"That's exactly what it is. Exactly," he said. "It is kind of hard to explain it to other people. You have so much respect for the coaches, and then they ask [for a commitment], and it is such a hard answer. They've done so much for me as it is, bringing me on this trip and all. I don't want to say, 'not yet.' It is not just me, it is every Polynesian kid, you know? That's it. That's what it is."
BYU's Anae explained that Polynesian youngsters are taught from birth to respect authority figures, so it can be difficult for them to say no. They end up committing to every coach they visit, then sort it all out on signing day.
"They don't go around shooting that authority figure the straight shot," he said. "It is actually offensive in the culture to tell someone in authority something they don't want to hear."
Anae puts some of the blame on the coaches - as does Scout.com's Fetters - for "hearing what they want to hear" and putting too much stock into a Polynesian player's favorable response.
"An over-eager coach claims the kid has committed, when in fact the kid was probably indecisive, and the coach tilted it one way or the other," Anae said.
McBride said soft commitments and de-commiting are not unique to any one culture.
"I have had some of those [Polynesian] kids tell me something, and they stay right with it. And I have had other kids tell me what they are going to do, and then they go home and take a trip and you don't know they are taking the trip.
"Usually, when a kid commits, if you get the family, the coach at the school and the kid all in one room, and everyone is one the same page, usually it sticks, whether it is a Polynesian kid or whomever."