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Monday, October 05, 2009

SJSU coach loses family members in tsunami

As the phone calls from home streamed in, the news kept getting worse.

Joe Salave'a, the San Jose State defensive line coach, learned last week that three aunts and a cousin had perished in the devastating tsunami that slammed into his island nation of American Samoa. Other family members are hospitalized.

But there was good news when Salave'a learned that a brother — one of his seven siblings — had been found alive, adrift at sea.

"It's surreal," said Salave'a, 34. "You see it on TV and you never think something like that can happen. But it does."

There's a strong Polynesian flavor throughout the NFL and major-college football.

SJSU alone has 11 players with South Pacific ties. Salave'a, who played for Spartans coach Dick Tomey at Arizona before a nine-year NFL career, is one Samoan whose family tragically was touched by last week's natural disaster that killed more than 170 people in the U.S. territory and other surrounding islands.

His village of Leone is in one of the hardest-hit regions because it directly faced the epicenter of the earthquake that caused the deadly tsunami.

Salave'a is thankful that his father, who holds a tribal leadership position, was in San Jose visiting because "there's no way he would have left his property."

Salave'a has joined his three sisters who also live in San Jose in helping a church-related relief effort.

He also participated on a conference call that included former Philadelphia Eagle Vai Sikahema as the NFL tries to coordinate a relief program with the Red Cross and Federal Emergency Management Agency.

He intends to restart his personal foundation, which has been dormant since he retired from the NFL, to raise money for survivors.

"Something like this puts everything in perspective," Salave'a said. "You get caught up in the daily chaos of your life.

"But when a disaster like this happens, none of that seems important."

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