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Saturday, September 25, 2010

For this Polamalu, expectations are nothing new

By Lou Rabito
Maika Polamalu was about to enter the small room just off the football practice field at Pottsgrove High School.
I awaited the onset of some serious hair envy.
He has the Polamalu name.
He plays the Polamalu game.
He has to have, I thought, the Polamalu mane.
In walked a muscular 18-year-old with a full head of hair - full by average standards. But by Polamalu standards, the barometer set by his first cousin, Pittsburgh Steeler and proud Samoan Troy Polamalu?
Let's just say the Head & Shoulders people won't be calling Maika anytime soon.
"People always ask me why I don't have that kind of hair, and what happened," Maika Polamalu said. "My dad was one of the only few out of his brothers and sisters not to have thick, curly hair. So then, when I'm only half-Samoan, I'm definitely not going to get it."
As a young player in a family filled with football tradition, Maika Polamalu is used to comparisons to relatives, as well as expectations that might be off the mark by, well, more than a hair.
His father is Ao Polamalu, a defensive lineman for Penn State in the mid-1980s. An uncle, Kennedy Polamalu, played for USC and is the Trojans' offensive coordinator.
Then there's Troy Polamalu, safety and cornerstone, shampoo-commercial star, and subject of a million-dollar insurance policy on all that hair. His mother is Ao and Kennedy's sister.
Maika, a running back who also plays several positions on Pottsgrove's defense, will be the next Polamalu in college football. A 6-foot, 210-pound senior and a Division I prospect, he has scored seven touchdowns in the Falcons' four games this season, gaining 475 yards on 55 carries.
Being a Polamalu has its privileges. But along with that comes pressure.
"The positives are he gets himself looked at a little quicker than other people," Pottsgrove coach Rick Pennypacker said, referring to recruiting. "For a lot of colleges, a lot of coaches, that name is pretty well known throughout the country. He has gotten a lot of glory, a lot of attention because of that name.
"The negatives, I think, far outweigh the positives. I feel bad for the kid because every college, every high school kid, every fan, every coach that comes in, every opponent, every opponent's fan think that he has got to be Troy Polamalu. And there's only one Troy Polamalu."
Maika, he said, has handled the expectations well, and the player concedes that he deals with them a lot better than he once did. He used to hear the talk and try to be a player that he wasn't. With some maturity and advice from his father, he said, he learned to be "my own person."
He and Troy don't communicate daily, but Maika says he sends the Steeler a text message once in a while and sees him occasionally. Troy says they rarely talk about football. The 29-year-old defensive back also says that his success shouldn't place pressure on his cousin.
"I never felt pressure because I have uncles and cousins that played at pretty elite levels of college," he told Scott Brown of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "It all depends on the parenting. Some parents can put a whole lot of pressure on [their children], and some don't. His parents definitely don't do that."
Maika Polamalu wants to make his college decision in the next month. He said that he has received offers from Temple, Villanova, Navy, and James Madison. He hopes to get more offers after he starts sending out more game film this week.
"He's a big, strong running back, but he's not a speed-burning running back," Pennypacker said.
"He's not one of those shifty, quick, little scatbacks that they're looking for nowadays. He's more of a straight-ahead, downhill running back. . . . So a lot of teams are holding on to see his senior year."
That senior year might end sooner than most.
Polamalu, who has a 91 average, is taking five classes at Montgomery County Community College in Pottstown as part of a dual-enrollment program that the school district and college have. If all goes well, he plans to graduate in December, enroll in college for second semester, and play spring football there.
"He's a tremendous student," Pennypacker said. "He's a tremendous kid, and I can't say enough good things about the kid."

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