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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Kaiser Iuta: KS-Hawai'i

by Kevin Jakahi
Tribune-Herald Sports Writer
Published: Tuesday, January 13, 2009 9:26 AM HST

Football brings two Iuta brothers, their uncle together

Kaiser Iuta's family connections stretch across the ocean -- 2,500 miles away to American Samoa, a place he had never seen.

He went there for a football game, the 6th annual Samoa Bowl on Jan. 2, which the Samoa All-Stars won 42-28 over the Hawaii All-Stars.

The Kamehameha-Hawaii senior received a nice koa bowl for winning the game's defensive lineman award. The middle linebacker finished with 10 tackles.But it was much more than a postseason football game.

It was a family reunion for Iuta. And his dad George Iuta. And his uncle Kaiser Iuta (the younger Kaiser was named after his uncle). And his cousin Isaiah Iuta.

The Samoa Bowl was played at Veterans Stadium in Ili'ili, where his family is originally from.

The younger Kaiser's grandparents moved from American Samoa to Oahu in 1960. They died young and George Iuta never got a chance to visit his relatives, who number nearly 100, including an uncle, Misi Iuta, 82, on his dad's side still living in the village of Ili'ili.

And it was football that brought the two brothers and cousins together. George is an assistant coach at Kamehameha-Hawaii and Isaiah is recent graduate of Farrington High School, where he played linebacker.

The family -- especially the two Iuta brothers -- traveled across the ocean not only carrying anxiety but also prestige. On the paternal side, there's a Methodist minister. On the maternal side, the generations go back to a high chief in the village of Malaeloa.

All their life George and his brother Kaiser knew they had family in American Samoa, one last direct link to their deceased father. Their dad's brother -- the closest of family blood bonds -- an uncle they've never seen or touched.

Then, it happened. Far-away family members in the same place. After years of seemingly forever apart. All together. Finally.

Misi Iuta and his two nephews, George and Kaiser, saw each other for the first time. An unshakable memory.

Eyes moistened. Emotions overflowed. Joy filled the air. A lifetime of wondering disappeared with a hug.

"My dad's uncle gave my dad a hug," the younger Kaiser Iuta said. "My dad's uncle looked really, really happy. My dad was pretty emotional, same thing with my uncle."

The aim of the Samoa Bowl is to provide student-athletes, particularly those from Hawaii, an opportunity to visit the territory, play a high-caliber football game, and restore pride in their Samoan heritage.

It does more.

"Most of the family came to the game," George said. "We got a chance to see how they live. They live off the land, trading bread fruit for chicken. They've got another McDonald's. Now they've got two. The people are nice and it's very humid."

The game is sponsored by the government, which provides three meals a day and transportation. There are also big-name sponsors such as Nike and Riddell, which donated shoes to the Samoa All-Stars, some of whom play football barefoot in high school.

"It was great to see the other side of my family," Kaiser Iuta said. "I got to meet up with new family and learn my culture. I learned how hard they work for the football game. They train most of the year for that one game."

That's what Iuta, who's 5 feet 11 and 205 pounds, is doing now. The University of Hawaii, Washington State, Idaho, Oregon, Colorado and Arizona have expressed interest in the scholar-athlete, who maintains a 3.67 grade-point average.

"I plan to wait for offers," he said. "I'd like to stay home and play for the Warriors. I've grown up and watched them play every weekend. There's no place like home."

There's also nothing -- as George and his brother Kaiser know -- like seeing and hugging a never seen family member for the first time.

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