By BOB HAMMOND Boomerang Sports Editor
It’s not easy to have a Polynesian influence in Laramie, Wyo.
Somehow, the gentle ocean breezes, the warm temperatures and the way of life in American Samoa and Huntington Beach, Calif., does not quite compare with the high, wind-swept plains and cold temperatures of Laramie at the base of the Rocky Mountains.
Surf board or snow board?
But the University of Wyoming football team definitely has a Polynesian influence in place now with new outside linebackers coach Mike Fanoga.
In five short months, the Cowboys have already recruited three Polynesian players in defensive back Trendt Marsom (Honolulu), wide receiver Alo Moli (West Valley, Utah) and defensive Mike Purcell (Highlands Ranch, Colo.). All are part of UW’s 2009 recruiting class.
Two other Hawaiian players have indicated that they will walk-on at Wyoming in the fall.
In looking ahead to 2010, two additional players with Polynesian ties have given Wyoming and new head coach Dave Christensen verbal commitments — defensive end Sonny Poletasi (Lawton, Okla.) and defensive lineman Desmond Tautofi (Honolulu).
Although Fanoga wasn’t solely responsible for recruiting the above-mentioned, he had a hand in the process because of his ties in the Polynesian community.
“The only reason I got involved is because I know some of the family names,” Fanoga said. “If you know a family from American Samoa, you probably pretty much know everybody. They know your family … your background. A lot has to do with the contacts and your ties.
“If we can get two or three (Polynesian recruits to come to Wyoming) in a year, that would be great,” Fanoga said. “My goal is to get five or six per year.”
Just how many players with Polynesian backgrounds have played at Wyoming over the years would purely be a guess. Most recently there have been only three — defensive lineman Paul Nunu (1974-76), fullback Mike Patolo (1996-97) and linebacker Leo Caires (1998-2001).
Although Fanoga has retained a number of contacts in American Samoa and Hawaii, he wasn’t raised there and hasn’t coached in either place.
His family moved from American Samoa to Huntington Beach when he was around 8-years-old. That’s where he learned the game of football and where he played his prep ball before going to play collegiately at Snow College in Utah and at UTEP.
All of his coaching experience, and there has been plenty of it, has come on the mainland.
Not only did he play football at Snow College in Utah and at UTEP, but also he received both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from UTEP.
In his two years as a linebacker with the Miners (1985-86), he had an opportunity to line up twice against the Cowboys — first in the Australian Bowl in Melbourne, and then in Laramie the following year.
The Cowboys won both of those games — 23-21 in UW coach Al Kincaid’s final season and 41-12 in Dennis Erickson’s one and only season.
He has 22 years of coaching experience on the college level, beginning with his alma mater in 1987. After leaving UTEP, Fanoga has made stops at Livingston (Ala.) University, Iowa Wesleyan, Valdosta (Ga.) State, Kentucky, Western Kentucky and most recently, New Mexico State.
He has recruited over 100 Polynesian players at those stops.
The big question remains … How is Fanoga able to retain those Polynesian contacts since most of his life has been spent on the mainland?
“I have a lot of good people helping me, especially the coaches at the high school level from American Samoa to the island of Hawaii and all the other islands in the South Pacific, especially the Hawaii area,” Fanoga said.
“I also recruit the West Coast … a lot in California,” he continued. “I get kids from everywhere, not just the islands.”
While Fanoga has an inside to the Polynesian community, he doesn’t like to think of himself as solely a recruiter of Polynesian players.
“I try not to tab myself as a true Polynesian recruiter. I try to recruit everybody … the top players, wherever they are,” he added.
And how have his first five months been for Fanoga, his wife, Soana, and daughter, Sydney?
“I never thought I’d be here at Wyoming, but I feel lucky to be here,” Fanoga said. “I knew about Wyoming back when I played because they were one of the top-notch programs in the WAC. But now, here I am.
“Wyoming is a beautiful place. The last couple of months I’ve had a chance to look around and I have really enjoyed it. It grows on you. I enjoy the people here, the community. I love being here and working for the University of Wyoming and being part of the Cowboys.”
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