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Friday, August 21, 2009

UW's Polynesian Tradition Stronger Than Ever

In all, 18 players of Polynesian descent populate the Husky roster.

Aug. 21, 2009

Washington has a long tradition of great players of Polynesian descent and of players from the state of Hawai'i, whether Polynesian or not.

Former greats like Olin Kreutz, Ink Aleaga, Bern Brostek and Marques Tuiasosopo among many others, have been followed to the UW by many more players with similar backgrounds and cultures.

This season's Husky team features at least 18 players of Samoan, Tongan or Hawai'ian descent: Kalani Aldrich, Jonathan Amosa, Talia Crichton, Cameron Elisara, Johri Fogerson, Ronnie Fouch, Mykenna Ikehara, Senio Kelemete, Kimo Makaula, Andru Pulu, Alameda Ta'amu, Daniel Te'o-Nesheim, Everrette Thompson, Tobias Togi, Semisi Tokolahi, Anthony Tokunaga, Trenton Tuiasosopo and Nate Williams.

What's more is that, of those 18, eight are defensive linemen, meaning that it's possible that the UW could field two entire defensive lines utilizing only Polynesian players. Additionally, the Dawgs' roster includes a remarkable three players from the Big Island of Hawai'i: Aldrich, Te'o-Nesheim and Tokolahi. There probably aren't more than a handful of other Big Islanders playing in the rest of major college football combined.

Anyone who has followed the UW or watches the games will note the unity and pride that these players take in their culture. The players frequently gather together for a pre-game prayer and spend a lot of their time off the field with one another as well.

For Te'o-Nesheim and Aldrich, it was a big deal to be able to come to a school where there were other Polynesian players.

"I liked that we had so many guys from Hawai'i," said Te'o-Nesheim. " Being able to relate to someone from the Islands is huge."
Aldrich said that while he didn't really think about it ahead of time, he now realizes that he would have been unlikely to go to a school with few or no Polynesian players.

For whatever reason, many of these players have found themselves on the defensive line (including their new position coach, Johnny Nansen, who is Samoan). But that's not a new phenomenon.

"It seems like it's always been like that," said Te'o-Nesheim. "When I got here there were like five Polys on the defensive line. Then for a while it was just Kalani, Cameron and I."

With so many Samoans, Tongans and Hawai'ians on the defensive line, you might think that non-Polynesian players might feel left out.

"I think they all click with us, even though they're not Poly," said Aldrich. "They all kind of gel with us. We have good chemistry."

"We out-number then, though," Te'o-Nesheim added.

One common way in which the Polynesian players celebrate their roots is through their food. Back-yard barbeques or trips to any of several local Hawai'ian restaurants are frequent, and it also gives players like Te'o-Nesheim a chance to introduce the cuisine to others.

"We all like the same kind of foods," he said. "Usually when we bring other people around, it's the first time they've ever tried it."

"Last year, Cameron (Elisara) roasted a pig under ground," Aldrich continued. "It was me, him, Daniel and (fellow d-lineman) Tyrone Duncan. It was the first time that Tyrone had ever had it. This year, we went to Daniel's auntie's house. We had Hawai'ian food and a bunch of guys got to try it."

Aldrich, Te'o-Nesheim and the other players who grew up on the Islands form a subset of the team's larger Polynesian group. They both say there is a difference between them and those from the mainland, but those differences are quickly overlooked.

"The Polynesians here and the Polynesians in Hawai'i are a lot different when you first meet them," Te'o-Nesheim explained. "Then you find out that all of your values are the same."

Primary among those values, both players quickly agreed, are respect and family -- two pretty good values on which to build a football team.

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