The Redlands East Valley football team won’t line up for the kickoff tonight in its showdown with host Yucaipa until it does one thing: The Haka.
That’s the traditional war dance from New Zealand that has also become popular in the Polynesian culture. Samoan-American Edmund Faimalo, a 6-foot-2, 270-pound mountain of a kid, will lead the Wildcats in this pre- and post-game ritual.
“It gets everyone hyped up,” Faimalo said. “It’s an adrenaline rush.”
There is a large contingent of Samoan players on REV’s roster, including Faimalo and his cousins Dylan Moi and Sone, and Mekeli Fata (the Fatas are brothers). All play on REV’s outstanding defense.
Samoans have made quite an impact on American football. There are more than 30 players of Samoan ancestry in the NFL and more than 200 playing NCAA Division I football from an island of 65,000, according to a “60 Minutes” report.
Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu, with his flowing black hair and Head & Shoulders commercial, is a Samoan-American who has become a household name.
“Football is new to me,” said Emma Faimalo, the mother of Edmund. “They play a lot of football over there, but mostly in American Samoa. I’m from Western Samoa, where they mostly play rugby. But we’re so proud of all our Samoan guys who play football.”
That includes Emma’s son and his three cousins, who together average 23 tackles per game for the Wildcats (9-0 overall, 4-0 in the Citrus Belt League).
REV is seeking its fifth Citrus Belt League title in six years. Yucaipa (also 9-0, 4-0) seeks its first league title since sharing the San Andreas League championship with San Bernardino in 1999, and its first perfect regular season since 1989.
Faimalo hails from proud athletic stock. His grandfather, Mataese Mataese, excelled in football, basketball and rugby and was known throughout Samoa, the REV star said.
The Faimalos moved from Long Beach to Redlands when Edmund was young, but he was too big to play Pop Warner football. At 5-foot-11, 220 pounds in seventh grade, he was already well over the weight limit of the popular youth league.
Emma Faimalo points to her son’s prodigious appetite for cheeseburgers and tacos as a contributing factor.
But the size hasn’t hurt him at REV, where he earned first-team All-Citrus Belt League last season as an offensive lineman. This year he switched to defensive tackle and is averaging four tackles per game. Sacramento State has offered him a scholarship and others are interested, Faimalo said.
“It was a huge thing for him to move to D-line after being an all-league offensive lineman,” REV coach Kurt Bruich said. “But he did it without hesitation. He embraced it and is just excited and goes out there and plays.”
Said Faimalo: “It’s great. You get to hit someone without getting a flag. You don’t have to worry about clipping and stuff like that.”
Come Sundays, all of Faimalo’s worries dissolve as he attends large Samoan cookouts. They feature a pig roasted over an earthen oven known as an “umu,” and include other traditional island foods such as taro root, rice and corned beef.
Faimalo can probably use the fuel heading into tonight’s championship game. But if he’s fretting, he’s not letting on.
“It’s just another game to us,” Faimalo said. “We’ve grown so much and we’ve played in a lot of big games. We like to play in them and live for them.”