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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Lined up, ready to go: Beaver DT influenced by 1st game

CANUTILLO -- Oregon State defensive lineman Stephen Paea always will remember the first football game he saw in person, in part because it was a classic and in part because it came so recently.

In 2004, the 16-year-old Paea (pronounced Pie-uh) had just moved to Kansas from Tonga, still dreaming of being a professional rugby player in New Zealand.

Then he ventured to a Kansas Jayhawks game in Lawrence, Kan., where he witnessed Vince Young's Texas team rally from an improbable late deficit and win. For perhaps the first time, he considered an athletic future outside of rugby.

"Oh man, that was amazing," Paea said of that game, specifically recalling Young's 23-yard scramble to convert a fourth-and-18. "Amazing. The uniforms, the big crowd; it was the first time I'd seen that."

A year later, in 2005 after his family moved again, he played his first game for for Timpview High School in Provo, Utah.

That's not the typical résumé of a junior coming off an honorable mention All-Pac-10 season that included five sacks, but perhaps it's not as big of a stretch as it looks.

The South Pacific long has been a hotbed of college football recruiting -- UTEP had a pair of Samoans on its team this year in Nu'u Punimata and JaBoy Leomiti -- and the Beavers have their finger on that pulse.

"We have as many Polynesian players as maybe anybody outside of BYU and Hawaii," coach Mike Riley said. "That's really impacted us. It brings a lot to our program.

"We're going to continue to do that. We have camps in Samoa."

But while Samoans are known for football, rugby is the game played by their neighbors to the south in Tonga, and Paea's transition started his senior year in high school.

"When I first started playing (football) I really liked it, almost the same as rugby," Paea said. "It took me a while to learn everything -- no offsides, all that 'easy' stuff. You can't facemask.

"The hardest thing is wearing the helmet -- not the pads, but the helmet. You can't see."

The learning curve was quick enough that he landed at Snow Community College in Utah, and after redshirting in 2006, he made enough of an impact to catch the eye of OSU assistant Joe Seumalo. Paea and his Snow teammate Sioeli Nau, fluent in Tongan, were recruited to Corvallis.

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