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Monday, April 13, 2009

Faaumu finds his way

Lahainaluna grad, UH?offensive lineman draws inspiration from brother

WAILUKU - Andrew Faaumu couldn't get enough - the smile on his face said as much.

Feeling his first live football hits since he finished playing at Lahainaluna High School in 2005, Faaumu was back in the stadium where he learned the game on Saturday.

Wearing No. 69, in white, for the University of Hawaii.

On his third school since graduating from Lahainaluna, Faaumu has found a home. At home, basically.

Faaumu watched his older brother, William Faaumu, play for UH as a walk-on for a couple of seasons earlier this decade.

''It was real emotional, you know, because I grew up watching my older brother play,'' Andrew Faaumu said Saturday after UH's first scrimmage of the spring, at War Memorial Stadium. ''I grew up since I was a little kid playing football on the side. When I got into high school, it was a great feeling, and then getting a chance to put on this Hawaii uniform and come out again, it is a real blessing.''

To understand how far Faaumu has come - he spent time at Kapiolani Community College and Hawaii Pacific University before enrolling at UH in the fall of 2007 - one only need to look at the inspiration he draws from his big brother, a 2002 Maui High graduate who has hearing problems.

Andrew Faaumu said his brother lost his ability to hear in the 6th grade, but regained some hearing as a senior in high school with a cochlear implant.

''He is one of my big inspirations because he is deaf,'' Andrew said of William. ''He was able to play at Maui High School and then even got on the team at UH and was a participant in the Hawaii Bowl against the University of Houston (a 54-48, three-overtime Hawaii win in 2003). He was a big role model for me growing up.''

On Saturday, Andrew Faaumu, a 6-foot-3, 305-pounder, was signing autographs and enjoying life as a walk-on offensive lineman for UH. It doesn't seem to matter that he is not listed on the three-deep spring depth chart.

He will be among 12 Mauians playing at the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly Division I) level in the fall.

''I feel like God has blessed me to come out and help the community and just show the community even though Maui is so big, the community is small,'' Faaumu said. ''The kids can make it. There is Kaluka Maiava (Southern California), Kaluka's younger brother, Kai Maiava (UCLA), and my cousin Kaniela Tuipulotu at Arizona. So, there's all kinds of MIL guys out there. I'm really happy we're here - it helps promote Maui, bringing football to Maui and making it bigger, because there is talent here.''

And after once struggling with college academics, Andrew Faaumu said he is now solid in the classroom. He tried football last spring but backed off to get school under control.

''I enrolled at UH last year, just taking care of my schooling and getting all that straight,'' he said. ''Now, I came back out, and I plan on graduating in a couple semesters. I had a lot of things I had to take care of off the field, but I talked to the coaches and they gave me the opportunity.''

Again, the inspiration came from his older brother.

''Now, he is doing bigger things off the field - he got to work at the White House,'' Andrew Faaumu said. ''He got a chance to work with the Department of the Treasury. He is about to graduate in international business. He is working on that right now.''

It was homecoming day at the stadium on Saturday, where after the scrimmage Faaumu stood a few feet away from his childhood friend Jayson Rego, a Wailuku native who was the crowd favorite from his running back spot on Saturday.

Rego's father, Jayson Rego Sr., and Faaumu's father, Tivoli Faaumu, are both 20-year veterans and lieutenants in the Maui Police Department.

''He was doing good, he was doing all the right things, he was doing really well out there,'' Jayson Rego Jr. said of his teammate. ''I definitely hope he gets his chance to show what he can do on the field. I think he will.''

Faaumu said having Rego on the same team is a huge help. The two crossed paths in the 2004 state prep semifinals when Rego led his Kamehameha Oahu team past Lahainaluna, 21-6, at Aloha Stadium. Kamehameha won the state crown a week later.

''It's kind of weird because I grew up watching him play and me and him played against each other in the (state) semifinals,'' Faaumu said. ''It is so funny we ended up at the same place, and the good thing is now I am with him. I'm not playing against him, I am blocking for him, so it has been a journey.''

The connection goes back several years.

''I remember growing up when I was a little kid going to the police parties,'' Faaumu said. ''I would find Rego and his little brother and I would always cruise around with them. Now, we talk story, cruise. It is like every time I see him, he is my little bridge to Maui. He just reminds me of all the Maui guys. It is real good because right now there is nobody from Lahainaluna, so Rego - he didn't graduate from Maui, but he is a Maui boy - so I can always just count on him.''

* Robert Collias is at rcollias@mauinews.com.

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