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Thursday, September 09, 2010

UCLA lineman Kia brings warrior's mentality to the gridiron

By Jon Gold, Staff Writer
The legend goes as such:
There would be a great king who would one day unite the islands of Hawaii, and his birth would be foretold by a fire in the sky. This great king would usurp the high chief and all the rival chiefs of the other islands. He would be strong, it was said, and he would lead.
Well, Halley's Comet shot through the heavens on Dec. 25, 1758, and a child - Paiea - was born soon after to Chief Keoua Nui and Chiefess Keku`iapoiwa. Alapa`inuiakauaua, the ruler of the land, was warned of the birth by his high priests, and grew angry. He ordered the child to be killed.
Keoua Nui and Keku`iapoiwa became worried, so they gave Paiea to the Nae'ole tribe for safekeeping, and the Nae'ole protected the child until he was able to be returned.
Paiea would then become King Kamehameha, the first king of Hawaii, the legendary leader who would unite the eight islands, whose life is celebrated by Hawaiians every June 11, whose image is on the back of the state quarter.
The Nae'ole tribe continued on, until one merged with a member of the Kia tribe, protectors, hunters, warriors.
They risked their lives protecting a king.
Their descendant, Micah Kia, risks his body protecting a Prince.
And the legend grows as such.

The Painted Warrior

The sun glistens on Kia's bare shoulders, working into the curves of the ink that covers his tanned skin. Kia is 6-foot-5, 321 pounds, bronzed and broad. He is UCLA's starting right offensive tackle, a redshirt senior, charged with blasting running lanes and ensuringthe safety of quarterback Kevin Prince. UCLA's offense goes nowhere without the Prince, and he has appeared fragile on this field.
Kia stands on Spaulding Field after the Bruins practice, long hair cascading in the wind, tongue out, eyes bulged, arms prone in warrior stance.
He tells a story. His pose tells a story. His body tells a story.
They are all over, these etchings of stone, triangles, spears, shark's teeth, night bats.
They tell of Kia's forefathers, his tribesmen, the warriors who passed their stories from generation to generation, the stories gathering on Kia's chest and shoulders.
"From the forearm to the elbow is the warrior band," Kia says, poring over his own body. "Over here is the shark-tooth spearheads. That's my weapon, it kind of flows into my fist. The symbol of the night bat? That's speed. These are octopus tentacles, and they suck in mana'o, or good spirits.
"Over here is the mo'o face, which is the ancient society of peace and serenity.
"The birds flying are the trilogy, the past, present and afterlife. This is the seed that I leave behind. This is kind of like the yin and yang for balance in the universe. All these here are armor, solid colors with the shark tooth, that's the armor. This is the lauhala, the symbol of the woven mats, because when you weave them together, they're extremely strong. Lot of guys would wear it as armor. From my shoulders to my chest was designed by the elders in my family."
He goes on, and you're transported to the islands, to the past, watching Kia's heritage shine through his eyes.
It is a legacy he carries with him everywhere.
In every block, on every run, every time he protects his Prince.

The Gridiron Warrior

There is a thought today that the emerging culture in football, and particularly college football, is the Polynesian culture.
Hawaiian, Samoan, Tongan, Maori — they have taken the warrior mentality, a mentality that protected them on the battlefield, and brought it to the football field. Troy Polamalu, Lofa Tatupu, Junior Seau, Jesse Sapolu, Rey Maualuga.
Micah Kia.
"You see Polynesians on every football team in the country, right?" said UCLA offensive coordinator Norm Chow, who was born in Honolulu and is the staff's chief recruiter in Hawaii. "They lend a certain toughness. They pride themselves on that."
Kia believes the attitude has been passed from generation to generation, and he celebrates that on his body.
He has the Nae'ole-Kia family symbols on his chest, as did his great-grandfathers and as do his grandfather and his father, Malcolm, who was an all-state offensive lineman in high school, and as will his brother, Aaron Kia, a former University of Hawaii offensive lineman who was recently in training camp with the New York Jets.
He believes they are with him on the field.
"All football players have that killer instinct, that tenacious side of them," Kia said. "The Polynesian style has a way to show it.
"Not all cultures have a way to physically show that. You don't have to be Polynesian to be a warrior; obviously, there are warriors in every culture, but people embrace symbols in our culture. If you have a way to display that ferocity inside of you, you're going to embrace it. People know when it's real and when it's fake. If it's fake, they'll brush it aside. 'These guys are just making noise.' But it's the feeling behind the Polynesian culture, that love, that desire to prove yourself, the love of battles past and battles present and battles future.
"It all culminates on the field."
Until it doesn't.

The Wounded Warrior

Micah Kia was penciled in to start on UCLA's offensive line last season as a senior, with 15 starts under his belt at three positions. He would have been the line's most experienced returner, its mouthpiece, the leader of a unit that would feature three sophomores — Jeff Baca, Kai Maiava and Mike Harris — a junior college transfer in Eddie Williams, and true freshmen Xavier Su'a-Filo and Stan Hasiak.
On Aug. 19, 2009 — two weeks from the season opener — Kia's season ended after suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.
He contemplated retiring soon after.
"I took a few weeks to figure out if I wanted to come back or not," Kia said. "It wasn't an automatic: next step, recovery. I had to weigh my options — this wasn't my first injury. Fractured back in high school, broken shin, broken hand. Is it really worth putting my body through this? When I realized it was possible to make a full recovery, the question was, 'Is this something I want to do?'
"But you know, this sport has taken precedence in my heart. Football has become my warrior identity. Letting it go, with the knowledge I could keep fighting, didn't sit well with me."
He had his moments.
Picture this mountain of a man with his leg up, walking boot constricting every movement, pain jolting through, tears flowing down, asking his father, a strong pillar of a man, for a glass of water.
A mountain that cannot move, asking a man who once separated his shoulder during a game and popped it right back in, for a glass of water.
The warrior mentality lends itself to stubbornness, and when it is taken away — injury or otherwise — it can be an impossible pill to swallow for most.
"He's a titan of a man in my head, someone I've always strived to be like," Kia said of his father. "Having to ask him for more and more, even though I know in his heart he's more than willing to give, that hurt. It's my turn. It's my turn to give to him. It shouldn't be the other way around anymore. He's given his all to me, and now it's time for me to start repaying him."
After his father left and his mother — Wallis — came and went, Kia went to work on himself. He worked tirelessly to regain the strength in his leg, though he admits he lost a step, and refined his upper body, returning for this season a few shirt sizes bigger.
"As far as my body goes, I feel a lot stronger," Kia said. "I definitely lost a step, I'm not going to lie about that. I'm not as fast as I was before last year, and I'm trying my best to get my wheels back underneath me — nothing is more intimidating than a big boy who can move — but mentally I feel like I'm back where I was."
Mentally, yes.
Physically, maybe.
Spiritually?
"The spiritual body has the most mystery surrounding it," Kia said. "It's really one big question mark. I would say the spirit is the hardest thing to work on. The body is one thing and the mind is another, and the mind controls the body — strong mind, eventually the body will follow. But to have a strong spirit is a completely different thing.
"One day I hope to find that oneness. Haven't found it yet. But it's something I've seen in others."
And the legend grows as such.

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