As a visit years ago from Joe Salave’a had impacted Bengals lineman Domata Peko when he was a student at Samoana, school visits by Peko, teammates Rey Maulauga and Jonathan Fanene are making a big impression on local athletes who dream of playing in the NFL.“It was good,” Fa’asao Marist Crusader defensive end David Katina told Samoa News after hearing the guys speak. “Like Domata was saying about Joe Salave’a...now I’m looking at them...I see the same thing. I want to be in their shoes too.”
Katina is a senior at Kanana Fou High School, who plays defensive end for Fa’asao Marist. He has just signed on to play for the University of Hawaii Warriors and Head Coach Greg McMackin.
Katina, an International Federation of American Football (IFAF) World Team pick, says he stayed with Fanene in the US recently and met Maualuga and Peko on the trip home Sunday.
“Using their advice, about God and hard work I think I can get there,” Katina said.
First stop yesterday was Tafuna High School, the alma mater of Cincinnati defensive tackle Jonathan Fanene who spoke to a hyped up crowd of Warriors.
“I started off where you are now, sitting and listening to the words of the previous NFL players we had back then, and now here I am, living the dream that I have always wanted to live, and it all goes back to education,” he said. “We are human beings like you are, and if you’re living the life that we started off at, then don’t tell yourself that you can’t make it. If we can make it, you can make it.”
He encouraged them to stay in school, listen to their parents, love themselves and their surroundings. After Tafuna, Fanene attended College of the Canyons and the University of Utah.
“The most important thing in life for me, is my family. My parents have raised me from childhood to be the best I can, and sometimes I tend to stray, but they’re the only two people in my lives who will always forgive me no matter what I do, and this is what I can do to repay them, is to love them and obey them,” said Fanene.
At Leone he told students they should be prepared to make a lot of sacrifices if they want to make it.
Tafuna, Leone and Fa’asao Marist received football equipment yesterday from the Domata Peko Foundation and Maualuga.
“Dreams do come true,” Leone High School Vice Principal Dorian Salave’a told the students during the Bengals visit yesterday, which he called a “very special treat for everyone who has dreams.”
Manu’a boy Maualuga, who grew up in Hawaii, threw up a shaka sign as he was introduced.
“When I was a little kid, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life,” he told the Lions. “I started playing football in the seventh grade...we moved to California and my dad forced me to play football...I didn’t want to play.”Maualuga said he wanted to ‘ka’a’ and hang out with his friends.
“But I realized that my purpose here on Earth is to play football...I was blessed with God-given talents...the size, the ability,” he said. “There’s a reason everyone is here...I’m thankful...I have the best job in the world.”
He recounted that there were a lot of critics who told him he would not play Division I college football but he was able to prove everyone wrong, even some skeptical family members.His parents and their teachings were a big influence on his life, said Maualuga and told youth they should “cherish” the time with their mom and dad.
“We’re having a great time in Samoa and hopefully we will leave with a lot of memories,” he said.Peko, a Samoana High School graduate reminisced on days of high school, joking that Leone always had “the prettiest girls.”
He shared the experience of listening to Joe Salave’a years ago.
“In 2001, Joe Salave’a came to my school...doing the same thing I’m doing...I told Joe I was going to make it to the NFL,” Peko said. “If there is one thing Joe told me I needed to make it to the NFL — it was hard work. If you want to be in the NFL, go to school, go to class and obey your parents. Keep your eyes in the prize. If me, Rey and Fanene can do it, you can too...make your family proud and our people proud...I love Samoa and I love my people...If you listen to one thing today from us — put God first.”
In answering questions from the students, Peko said before he joined the Bengals, he was a big Raiders fan. While he has realized his dreams other goals they (himself, Maualuga and Fanene) seek to accomplish include playing in the Pro-Bowl and winning a Super Bowl.He said the hardest challenge he faced on his way to the NFL was having bad friends and the hardest thing was getting rid of them.
“Don’t hang around with those people...hang around with people who have the same goals with you,” Peko advised.Last stop on the Bengals’ high school visits yesterday was Fa’asao Marist High School which is celebrating Catholic Education Week. Their teammate defensive tackle Orien Harris was with them.
“We saved the best for last,” Peko said to a cheering crowd of Cougars and Crusaders.Peko told Samoa News his Foundation was able to collect 150 sets of donated pads and helmets while the Foundation put in 120 sets. The sets have been divided up for the schools.
“This is something I’ve always wanted to do...playing football here, we had some sorry equipment...and I hope you guys win the championship with this,” he told Fa’asao Marist.
Linebacker Maualuga purchased 700 pairs of cleats that were distributed among the island’s six high schools for their football players.Fanene, from Nu’uuli, told students he came from a poor family, the second eldest of 13 children.
But times for Fanene are way different now. He is going into his fifth year with the Bengals, a 2005 seventh round NFL draft pick. He has a family of his own, wife Lori and son Truman and with his NFL salary has built a palatial home for his parents and siblings in Malaeimi that was featured on 60 Minutes’ “Football Island”.
"Family first, and education,” he told Fa’asao Marist.Students questioned Peko on many things: why the long hair; how it feels to be a professional football player; and what he plans to do after football. One also asked if they communicate with Steelers’ Troy Polamalu, another Samoan in the NFL.
Peko says it feels great to play in the NFL; and they grow their hair long to represent the islands as do Tongan players in the NFL. Polamalu, he says, is a very humble person and after games they like to shake hands and talk. He says when he can’t play football anymore, he’d like to return to American Samoa and become a teacher.“I’m going to try to bring all the Samoans together, all the uso, and try to do a football camp for the kids next year,” Peko said
Kanana Fou High School’s Ben Langford, 16, who has one more year as quarterback for the Crusaders said the Bengals visit taught him a lot.“About how to make it in the NFL, with God and hard work,” says Langford, “and hopefully one day we can make it too and come back to Samoa to help with our community.”
Players will visit Kanana Fou High School and Lauli’i Elementary School today. They are expected to visit with the American Youth Football Samoa League on Saturday.