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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

All-star game is family affair

Local player reunited with deployed father at game

Published: 02:21PM January 14th, 2010

SAN ANTONIO — Traveling to San Antonio for the 10th annual U.S. Army All-American Bowl was quite an experience in itself for most of the 90 players selected to play in the game.

Jumping on planes, traveling through different cities and seeing different cultures can be fun.

Sione Potoa’e of Lakes High School in Lakewood, a defensive tackle for the West team, had a more memorable traveling experience than he ever expected. After getting off the plane during one of the scheduled layovers, he saw someone he thought looked like his father.

“When I realized it was my dad,” said Sione, “we both got emotional.”

Sione’s father is 1st Sgt. Aleki Potoa’e, assigned to 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division.

Aleki is currently deployed at Forward Operating Base Grizzly, Iraq. Sione had no idea his dad would be in San Antonio supporting him.

“I was very surprised and excited to see my father,” Sione said.

The Potoa’e family reunion here has been in the making for seven years now.

“In 2003, I was here at the All-American Bowl and bought a hat and coin for my son,” Aleki said.

It doesn’t seem like seven years ago to the younger Potoa’e.

“It seems like it was just yesterday when my dad gave me the coin and hat,” Sione said. “It is an honor to be selected for this game, and I am speechless right now.”

The father and son spent as much time as possible together, but free time wasn’t always easy to come by last week.

“My son has been spending a lot of time at practice and different functions held here throughout the week,” Aleki said.

Because Aleki has been in the Army for almost 13 years, he and his son have grown accustomed to not always having much time together. Sione does have some advice for fellow children of Soldiers.

“Prepare mentally, do best in what you do and strive for success,” he said.

Potoa’e and his West team were successful in Saturday’s game, dispatching the East squad, 30-14, for the first West win since 2007. The 6-foot-3-inch, 285-pound defensive tackle saw action throughout the nationally televised game.

Although the U.S. Army All-American Bowl week recognized the top high school football players, Sione keeps his father and all Soldiers in his thoughts.

“We’re playing for the U.S. Army,” Sione said. “The Soldiers are in our minds and heart.”

Top players such as Sione can get invitations to appear at numerous different all-star games and festivities. However, it wasn’t a hard decision for him to pick this bowl.

“I chose this game because it makes me proud,” Sione said. “It gives me a chance to represent Soldiers overseas.”

Family is very important to the Potoa’es, and it was a big part of why Sione has committed to play football at the University of Washington.

“I chose Washington,” said Sione, “so I could be closer to my dad and my entire family.”

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