EL PASO, Texas -- Oregon State defensive tackle Stephen Paea was 16 when he moved to the United States with his family and it didn't take long for this Tonga native to fall in love with two things closely tied to the American culture.
The first thing he fell in love with was American food, and given the fact that Paea weighs about 300 pounds, it isn't hard to figure out why.
But his love for food paled in comparison to the love he had for this exciting sport, which resembled his favorite sport, rugby, except it seemed to be played at a faster pace and the players wore a lot of funny-looking equipment.
And clearly it didn't take long before a match was made between athlete -- Paea had aspirations of becoming a professional rugby player in New Zealand -- and sport. He joined the Timpview High School football team in Provo, Utah, for his senior season and by the end of his first year had become a legitimate prospect.
This despite that he also was struggling to communicate because he didn't speak English when he arrived, just his native Tongan as well as Samoan (he lived in Samoa for a year before moving to the United States). He said once he learned the language and figured out how to put his helmet on, the game became very easy because it isn't that much different than rugby.
"The first time I tried on a helmet I couldn't see past the bars on it and couldn't understand how anyone could wear one of those things," Paea said. "But I slowly figured it out and it has become normal. The thing was when I moved here I realized that they didn't have rugby here, it just isn't an American sport, so I tried football and it was fun.