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Friday, August 21, 2009

Safety Al Afalava striving to make a home with Chicago Bears

BOURBONNAIS -- The Samoan term for spanking, "sasa", became a regular part of Al Afalava's vocabulary as a child.

"I used to get them all the time growing up in Hawaii," the Bears rookie safety said. "My father was pretty tough on me."

Afalava nearly got a "sasa" in front of his college teammates in February 2008. Before his senior year at Oregon State, he was cited for driving under the influence and hit-and-run after crashing his car into a bus shelter and fleeing the scene.

"I had a late night and was drunk," Afalava recalled. "I decided to drive and fell asleep at the wheel. I crashed my car and ran home.

"I thought I was dreaming. I don't even remember how much I drank. I'm done with drinking now. I'm kind of glad it happened because I was getting carried away. That made me focus on my family."

Donald Tanoai, Afalava's father, said his son neglected to call the house for three days after the incident.

"I was so mad that I wanted to catch the plane up there," Tanoai said. "I told him he was lucky I wasn't there. I was really ticked off at him, and he knows it.

"But kids make mistakes. He learned from it and moved on. He grew up."

Afalava's maturity on the field made him the talk of training camp, which ended Thursday at Olivet Nazarene. The wide-eyed sixth-round draft pick arguably played better than anyone on defense Saturday in an exhibition game at Buffalo. His sure tackling and natural instincts made him an instant hit. And he made an impact despite missing a large portion of off-season work while still attending classes at Oregon State.

"It didn't really start Saturday. It really started when he got into training camp," general manager Jerry Angelo said. "Things move fast at this level. And usually that's what gets the young guys, just from a mental standpoint.

"Didn't happen with him. He hit the ground running."

Afalava will start for the second consecutive week when the Bears meet the New York Giants on Saturday night at Soldier Field. The game should be extra special for Afalava, considering his wife of three years, Jerrell, and their two children are traveling from Hawaii.

Basketball was Afalava's first love, and he figured being a 5-foot-11-inch point guard was in his future until his father convinced him to quit the sport during his junior year of high school.

"We didn't have the money to send him to college, and I told him he wasn't going to earn a scholarship playing basketball," said Tanoai, a prison guard in Hawaii. "Football was the way to go. He listened."

Tanoai encouraged the high school football coaches to switch his son from running back to strong safety because "he really liked to hit ever since he played Pop Warner."

Afalava patterned his game after a player from his favorite NFL team: safety Darren Woodson of the Dallas Cowboys. He also watched University of Hawaii standout Pisa Tinoisamoa, a fellow Polynesian and now his teammate with the Bears.

He almost followed his Mormon faith to Brigham Young but opted for Oregon State because he thought it better suited his dream of playing in the NFL.

Now he is rubbing shoulders with Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs on the field -- and dominating Tinoisamoa and others in games of spades off the field.

If Afalava plays his cards right, he just might find a role on the Bears' defense this season.

"Hopefully after the last preseason game, I'll be able to move my family up here," he said. "I just want to wait on it to make sure. I don't want to get too confident."

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