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Thursday, October 01, 2009

Polynesian player pool growing

Matt Florjancic, Contributor to ClevelandBrowns.com

10.01.2009

As the popularity of the NFL increases around the world, the diverse pool of players contributing to the game continues to expand.

When the Browns drafted linebackers David Veikune (52nd overall) and Kaluka Maiava (104th) in the second and fourth rounds respectively, they welcomed two new Pacific Islanders into the NFL.

"Polynesians, they're pretty strong, very powerful, physical people," Veikune said. "The NFL's a very physical game, so I think they put two and two together and started recruiting over there."

"We're just people trying to play football and have a job," said Maiava. "I don't know if we're the chosen few or anything. We're just trying to make a living."

The Bengals, this Sunday's opponent and the Browns' in-state rival, added a player of Samoan descent when they selected linebacker Rey Maualuga with the sixth pick in the second round (No. 38 overall).

Maualuga played linebacker next to Maiava at the University of Southern California and knows what his fellow Samoan brings to the field.

"Kaluka's a great linebacker in my eyes, an undersized linebacker, but has a lot of heart and determination to get things done," Maualuga said in a teleconference Wednesday. "He's a playmaker. Given the opportunity, he will make plays."

Veikune is a native of Wahiawa on the Island of Oahu, while Maiava hails from Wailuku on Maui. Maiava also has roots in American Samoa and proudly displays his heritage with tattoos around his right arm and leg.

In addition to Maualuga, Bengals defensive tackles Jonathan Fanene and Domata Peko are also of Samoan descent.

They are the latest players with roots in the Pacific trying to make an impact at the NFL level. Last season, almost 30 Polynesian players played in the NFL.

Steelers free safety Troy Polamalu has been one of the more high-profile Samoan players to compete in the NFL. He has 438 career tackles, 332 solo stops and 7 quarterback sacks over his seven seasons in Pittsburgh. He has 18 interceptions and returned one for a touchdown during the 2004 season.

Before Polamalu was bothering quarterbacks with blitzes off the edge or providing big hits to receivers going across the middle of the field, linebacker Junior Seau was setting the standard for Samoan players.

Seau played in the NFL from 1990 to 2008 with the Chargers, Dolphins and Patriots. During his career, Seau collected 56.5 quarterback sacks and 18 interceptions.

With the success of Hawaiian and Samoan players in the NFL, more people are paying attention to high school and college football in that region. Every coach who scouts in the area is trying to land the next big star from the islands.

"In Samoa, a lot of coaches go over there to recruit out of college," said Veikune. "A lot of guys are getting opportunities that they used to not get before."

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