Wednesday, January 20, 2010
American Samoa: Football Island
Scott Pelley Reports on Why More NFL Players Come from This Tiny Group of Islands Than from Any Other Place in America
Call it "Football Island" - American Samoa, a rock in the distant South Pacific.
From an island of just 65,000 people, there are more than 30 players of Samoan descent in the NFL and more than 200 playing Division I college ball. That's like 30 current NFL players coming out of Sparks, Nev., or Gastonia, N.C. 60 Minutes correspondent Scott Pelley traveled 8,000 miles to American Samoa and found a people and traditions so perfectly suited to America's game - it's as if they'd been waiting centuries for football to come ashore.
In American Samoa, a football team warms up with the Haka War Dance - something that's been passed down for ages to teach agility to warriors of size and strength.
What coach doesn't wish he'd thought of that first? It turns out the South Pacific was raising football talent before there was football.
While Pelley was there, the island was getting set for its version of the Super Bowl - the High School Championship.
After a winning season, 16-year-old quarterback Tavita Neemia would lead the Samoana High School Sharks. His coach, Pepine Lauvoa, has a roster that mainland schools dream about.
"They’re soft spoken, they’re gentle," he told Pelley of his players. “But when they put on their equipment, they just become monsters. And they just want to go out and hit and hit and hit."
One 16-year-old player told Pelley he's 6 feet 5 inches tall. Another, 17 years old, said he's 6 foot 4 and a half.
"It looks like you’ve been hitting cars with this thing," Pelley said, holding a beaten-up football helmet, eliciting laughter from the players.
In the last five years alone, the island's six high schools have produced 10 NFL linemen. It's estimated that a boy born to Samoan parents is 56 times more likely to get into the NFL than any other kid in America.
The Samoan people are big. And big is beautiful, according to Togiola Tulafono, the governor of American Samoa.
Tulafono said it's not just size that makes the Samoans such great football players. His people come from a farming culture that prizes hard work, reverence and discipline. And he thinks that's why scouts and coaches are pulling out their atlases.
"Yeah, it's not very visible," Tulafono agreed.
"It is a small dot on a big ocean."
"It is, it is," he responded. But nowadays Google helps a lot."
American Samoa is a paradise - clear seas and 80 degrees most of the time. It's a land that roared out of the Pacific in a volcanic eruption. Nearly 5,000 miles from California and way past Hawaii, it's the only inhabited American possession south of the Equator. Of the seven islands in the chain, the largest is just over 19 miles, end to end.
It was back in 1899 that the U.S. Navy sailed into this harbor and figured that it was perfect for refueling ships. The islands have been American ever since.
The Samoan people aren't exactly American citizens. They can't vote for president - but, on the other hand, they don't pay income taxes either. The capital, Pago Pago, has an American feel. Flag Day is the most important holiday and there's a tradition of sending kids into the U.S. military. But for all its beauty, American Samoa is not blessed with wealth. For the most part, Samoans make a living canning tuna. Two-thirds of the people are below the poverty level.
Tavita Neemia, the quarterback for the Sharks, has a typical family. His mom works at the cannery, and he'll need a scholarship to go to college. He and Coach Lauvoa make the most of what they have.
The high school football field, which Lauvao called the "Field of Champions," is short, rocky and unlined. The team doesn't have a locker room or a weight room, either. And yet three NFL players have come out of his school.
"How are you turning out NFL football players?" Pelley asked Lauvao.
"Determination," he responded.
Voc-Tech High School has one player in the NFL. But Coach Ethan Lake has no practice field at all, and no locker room. A rusted shipping container is the storeroom for his varsity team's busted, antiquated equipment.
"Everything that’s in here, that we have gotten here in American Samoa, is actually donated," Lake said. "It’s second-hand equipment. And it's actually equipment that would never be allowed to be used in the States."
"Coach, if you used some of this gear back in the States, you’d get sued," Pelley remarked.
The NFL and USA Football are helping to start the program. But all of the players that came before started playing in high school.
It seems they do well despite the adversity. But getting cut up on lava rock and playing in sneakers without equipment are the keys to their success. Samoans are born big, but the island makes them tough.
This is a place where kids use machetes to do their chores. Come to think of it, its a place where kids do chores. Seventeen-year-old Aiulua Fanene does a day's work before school, under the direction of his father, David.
"He's cooking in this house. He's cleaning in this house. That is something that kids back on the mainland would not believe if they didn't see it," Pelley told David Fanene.
"That’s how he’s been brought up. Discipline…Obedience should be involved in this house and I am expecting my children to obey us," he said.
Aiulua stands 6 feet 5 inches tall and weighs 280 pounds. Arizona and Oregon State are offering him scholarships. One day, he hopes to follow in the cleats of his brother, Jonathan Fenene, the defensive lineman for the Cincinnati Bengals.
"When you sent him to Cincinnati, did you give him any advice on how to live and how to play football?" Pelley asked Fanene.
"Well, I told him once you put on your football equipment, automatically you turn into a lion, turn into a lion that’s chasing a deer to eat," he laughed. "You know what I mean.”
"Play like a lion, but be a humble man," Pelley remarked.
"Be a humble man," Fanene agreed.
From an island where the average income is a little over $4,000 a year, Jonathan Fanene is making more than $1 million in Cincinnati. Paul Brown Stadium, where the Bengals play, would seat everyone back in American Samoa, with 1,000 seats to spare.
"With the talent that we have, we have to take pride of it," Jonathan told Pelley. "Especially when you have the opportunity to come to the mainland, you got to take advantage of it."
Fanene is a defensive end in a breakout season with six sacks and even a touchdown. He's one of two Samoan-born players on the team, along with Domata Peko.
"The combination of size, and ability and speed, you know, that’s kind of hard to find. Big dudes that can have nimble feet, you know, and are able to run and go sideline to sideline," Peko said.
The NFL's "Sunday Samoans" are hard to miss, with their vowel-laden names and trademark hair. The most famous is Pittsburgh Steelers all-pro safety Troy Polamalu. Born in California to Samoan parents, his name is on two Super Bowl trophies.
"What if there were 120 million Samoans, you know? How many Samoans would there then there be in the NFL?" Polamalu quipped.
"If there were 120 million Samoans, it might be the National Samoan Football League," Pelley told the football star.
Polamalu laughed. "That would be interesting, yeah."
He may well be the most versatile defensive player in the league - smart, fast and a hell of a hitter.
To a kid growing up in Samoa, Polamalu told Pelley, football is a "meal ticket."
"Just like any marginalized ethnic group, you know, if you don't make it to the NFL, what do you have to go back to?" he asked.
"That’s the beautiful thing about football," Polamalu continued. "It’s allowed us to get an education. Football is something that comes naturally to us.”
Football has never been more important to the island than right now, because this season there's been more than the usual trouble in paradise. The island may lose its tuna industry. One cannery, Chicken of the Sea, has left. And because the U.S. Congress wanted to help Samoa by imposing American minimum wage, Governor Tulafono is worried that the last cannery, Starkist, could look to other shores.
Tulafono said that some economists have estimated that 80 percent of the Samoan economy is wrapped up in tuna canneries.
"Eighty percent of everything that goes on around here," he stressed, "is dependent on the prescence of the canneries."
And they just lost one of those canneries on Sept. 30.
"What does that mean to you?" Pelley asked.
"Devastation," Tulafono sighed.
In the fall, there was natural devastation, too. The day before that cannery closed, the island was struck by an earthquake that led to something much worse.
When the shaking stopped, people traveling on one of the roads overlooking the ocean could see the water moving back to sea, and a few of them knew what was coming next.
It was a tsunami - the devastation recorded on a security camera until the power went out. The wave pushed inland for a mile, killing 34 people and washing away entire villages.
"When I heard the village that got hit, the first thing that came through my mind was my football players," Lauvao said. "And then, I found out 13 of my kids either lose their home or home damaged by the tsunami."
One of his kids who was hit by the disaster was quarterback Tavita Neemia. His home was damaged by the earthquake. With about eight weeks to go before the championship game, some thought they should cancel the season, but Governor Tulafono decided that football would cheer everybody up.
"This kid is the leader on the team. And this kid has heart," Lauvao said of his quarterback.
Hours after the funeral, the Samoana Sharks and Tafuna High met for the last game of the season. Nameeia connected early and jumped out to a surprise 7-0 lead. The rest of the game was a contest of all-Samoan defensive lines. Ultimately, the Sharks won 7-6, their first championship win in 11 years.
When the clock struck zero, Lavuao looked for his quarterback, who was crying and hugging other teammates.
"I told him, 'This is for you. Your father is looking down on you, and he's very proud of you.' And I gave him a hug."
Nameeia responded, through tears, "I love you, coach."
That moment revealed the real reason why a community of 65,000 has so many players in the NFL. Turn's out it's not the size - it's the heart.
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Monday, January 11, 2010
Saturday, January 9, 2010
NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. – The Texas Longhorns will storm onto the Rose Bowl field Thursday and attempt to win their fifth national championship.
But first, they’ll take time to pray.
Jordan Shipley hands teammates like Hunter Lawrence a handwritten bible verse before each practice.
Not just a handful of players or even a large group. If the season-long tradition continues, each and every member of Texas’ team will trot into the end zone and bow their heads a few moments toward kickoff.
“It’s not something that gets talked about a lot,” receiver Jordan Shipley said, “but there are a lot of believers on this team. It’s awesome to be a part of. I really think it’s made a difference in how we’ve played this year.”
Religion in football is certainly nothing new. For years athletes have pointed toward the heavens following a touchdown, knelt in prayer at midfield after the final horn and offered praise during postgame interviews.
What makes the Longhorns unique is the quantity of players who are so open and passionate about their relationship with Christ.
Kicker Hunter Lawrence, for instance, looks forward to the handwritten Bible verse he receives from Shipley before each practice. Offensive lineman Tray Allen, punter John Gold and standout defenders Sam and Emmanuel Acho went on a mission trip to Nigeria last summer, and center Chris Hall is among the many Longhorns players who can quote scriptures as well as their playbook.
Hall – the son of a pastor – was basically holding court during a media session earlier this week as he recalled the summer night in his dorm room when he accepted Christ.
“I cried out to the Lord,” Hall said, “and I told him two things. I told him, ‘Lord, I hate my life. I hate living for myself.’ I felt like ‘self’ characterized everything I did. And then I told him, ‘Lord, I want you to love me, and I want to love you.’
“When I did that, something happened that night, brother, that I’ve never experienced before. It’s changed me for the rest of my life. I haven’t been the same since. The Lord Jesus came to live within my human spirit. Everything has been so much sweeter. The grass is just greener, brother. Knowing the Lord just makes everything so much more enjoyable.”
“Including football,” he said.
No player is suggesting that the Longhorns have won games solely because of their faith. Instead it’s the positive outlook and attitude brought on by their religion that leads to more productive practices – and an inner peace during games.
“It’s unbelievable,” Texas head coach Mack Brown said. “When you’re in a state school you can’t push religion, but we have FCA [Fellowship of Christian Athletes]. We have chapels. We allow our team to choose whether or not they want to do those things. We don’t push it, but there’s a real strong [religious] influence on this team.
“I think it’s one of the reasons we’re here.”
Indeed, Texas wouldn’t even be playing in Thursday’s championship game against Alabama had Lawrence not booted a 46-yard field goal as time expired against Nebraska. Shortly before he lined up for the kick – which gave Texas a 13-12 victory – Lawrence listened as Shipley, his holder, recited Jeremiah 17:7.
“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him,” Shipley said.
Lawrence smiled when recalling the story a month later.
“After that moment,” he said, “I knew I was going to make it.”
Lawrence said he had a good relationship with Christ when he enrolled at Texas. But he said it has strengthened significantly because of players such as Shipley, Hall and quarterback Colt McCoy.
“Their faith is very strong,” Lawrence said. “They have a really positive influence on a lot of the guys on the team, especially the younger ones.”
Players said the general public has no idea how big of a part religion plays in many of the Longhorns’ daily routine.
“Some of it is more in a hidden way,” Hall said. “You’d almost have to have an all-access pass to see it. We pray together at a regular time each day. We’ll get together in hotel rooms and talk and get into the words [of the Bible]. Lots of things.”
Not all the Longhorns’ actions go unnoticed.
Hunter Lawrence heard his holder recite a bible verse before kicking the game-winning field goal in the Big 12 title game.
Attendance at Wednesday night FCA meetings can often be overwhelming, players said. And each Friday before home games, a group of Longhorns visit children at a local hospital.
Offensive lineman Adam Ulatoski spent time last summer building a house for a less fortunate family through Habitats for Humanity while McCoy went on a mission trip to Peru for the second straight year.
As often as he can, Shipley speaks to various high school groups and church youth groups in and around Austin. Shipley said his faith went to a new level during his first two years at Texas, when injuries kept him off the field.
“It was tough,” Shipley said, “but it allowed me to figure out who I was away from football. I did a lot of soul searching and developed my faith. Now that’s my motivation for every game. I try to use the pedestal I’ve been given to glorify God.
“With kids, it’s just showing them that you can represent Christ by being successful at what you do and by having an impact on people. I think there’s a reason we’re all here. That’s to Glorify Him. Everything I do, that’s my main purpose.”
The demand for Shipley is high, but Texas officials said no player is as sought after as McCoy, who sometimes receives as many as 10 speaking requests a day. Things got so out of hand a year ago that offensive coordinator Greg Davis called McCoy’s father, Brad.
“It’s becoming too much,” Davis told him. “I need you to help me convince him to slow down a bit.”
McCoy may have scaled things back, but sometimes even the smallest things end up influencing both fans and strangers. Shipley and McCoy, for instance, hardly ever miss a Sunday service at Westover Hills Church of Christ.
A few years ago, Brad McCoy received a call from one of the church’s members. It was the morning after Texas had lost to Kansas State in Manhattan – a game in which McCoy had suffered a pinched nerve in his neck.
“This man called, and he was crying,” Brad McCoy said. “He told me, ‘Coach McCoy, I’ve got to tell you, I’ve never seen anything like your son. I was sitting in church this morning when Colt walked in. He was a little late, but here was there, all beat up.
“I know he couldn’t have gotten home from Kansas before 3 or 4 a.m., but he was there for that 9 a.m. service. My little boy saw that. I just want you to know that that was the biggest impression anyone will ever make on my 10-year-old.’”
Brad McCoy paused.
“You hear that about your son,” he said, “and you can’t help but be proud.”
Win or lose Thursday, a lot of other Longhorns parents should feel the same way.
Jason King is a college football and basketball writer for Yahoo! Sports.
Friday, January 8, 2010
I cannot say enough about the class of this young man. His perspective ... You should show this to every single one of your players - especially - the injured ones.
Wednesday, January 6, 2010
Contributed By Teresa Cleary | Winton Woods Schools Communications Department
The Winton Woods High School wrestling team is armed with shovels and ready for the next snow day to help out by shoveling snow for free in their neighborhoods. Coach Chris Willertz said the team received a lot of support for their Adopt-a-Warrior program to help wrestlers with pay-to-play fees, but “didn’t get a lot of people who needed work done” in exchange for their donation. So Willertz is creating another community service opportunity for his team with the help of Winton Woods Board of Education Vice-President Tim Cleary.
“I thought it’d be a great idea to make community service part of their jobs as Warrior wrestlers,” said Willertz. On days when it snows, he’s asking his team to shovel their own driveways and then shovel their neighbors’ driveways. “I want the neighbors to know a Warrior wrestler lives in their neighborhood.”
Cleary donated 40 shovels to the wrestlers to help make sure the work gets done. “The Board and I support the team’s mission of community service and being outwardly-focused by helping others,” said Cleary.
The next snow day will start a new tradition for Willertz and his team. “We’ll shovel in the morning, practice at noon, and then go out and play,” he said.
The wrestlers will keep the shovels at the end of the season as a “legacy.” Willertz said the shovel is “a reminder that this is what I’m supposed to do. This is what wrestling is all about—being a man and helping others out.”
By Sean Shapiro
BOISE — Throughout his four years at BG, Craig Rutherford has silently flown under the radar.
But, that all changed Monday evening at the US Bank Humanitarian Awards Dinner when the senior long snapper was honored for his efforts off the field and in the classroom.
The award, given to one player from each team partaking in the Humanitarian Bowl, is based on three aspects, on field performance, community involvement and academics.
“I think they were looking for someone who has done some community service in the Bowling Green area,” Rutherford said. “That’s something I’ve always tried to do. I really enjoy helping people, it’s one of the things I enjoy in life.”
To say Rutherford enjoys helping people is an understatement, as he has demonstrated himself as an asset to the community over the past four seasons.
Recently, Rutherford visited with a BG cross country runner who had suffered from heat stroke after being asked by coach Dave Clawson.
While his visit with a BG cross county runner came after a suggestion from his coach, Rutherford has also gone out of his way individually to make a difference in the community.
“I got a note last year, it was a senior citizen who was in a local home. Wanting to thank me for sending Craig Rutherford over there to visit with them, and I had no idea what they were talking about,” Clawson said.
In addition to his visits to local seniors and a fellow BG athlete, Rutherford has also been heavily involved BGSU’s Dance Marathon for the Children’s Miracle Network.
Academically Rutherford has set a strong example for the rest of his teammates as well, maintaining a 4.0 Grade Point Average while not only playing football, but also student teaching before graduating earlier this December.
“We have actually had parents of the students he is student teaching call us and asking how they can purchase tickets, because they said what Bowling Green football is about we need to go watch you guys play,” Clawson said.
Rutherford found out about the award earlier this week, after representatives from the Humanitarian Bowl interviewed his teammates about his on and off field accomplishments.
While Rutherford was the award recipient for BG, Idaho wide receiver Max Komar was also acknowledged for his efforts. Komar, a former walk-on, has not only helped the community in Idaho but has also traveled to Mississippi to help struggling families after hurricanes Katrina and Ike.
“Giving a helping hand in and around the community really impacts peoples lives in a positive way, being able to go down to Mississippi and see what those families have gone through, I learned you really can’t take things for granted in life,” Komar said.
Komar certainly hasn’t taken anything for granted, taking the most of his opportunities this season, making 62 catches for 1062 yards and 10 touchdowns this season.
While Komar and Rutherford walked away with trophies at Monday night’s award ceremony, the biggest trophy was still resting on the table, waiting to be awarded to Humanitarian Bowl Champion after Wednesday’s contest.
The Roady’s Humanitarian Bowl is the only bowl game in the United States that has humanity in its brand. The Bowl recognizes the positive impact teams, coaches and student-athletes have in their communities and their leadership roles in promoting humanitarian efforts.
Tuesday, January 5, 2010
By COURTNEY CAIRNS PASTOR
Published: December 31, 2009
TAMPA - Practice hard and play to win, but keep the competition in perspective.
"Run to win," former Buccaneers coach Tony Dungy told players Wednesday morning at a Fellowship of Christian Athletes breakfast, quoting from the Bible.
"Don't win the game and lose your soul," Dungy said.
Players and staff from the Auburn and Northwestern football teams, competing in the Outback Bowl on Friday, joined high school athletes, business leaders and community members at the Hyatt Regency Tampadowntown for the annual breakfast. Coaches and athletes prayed together and shared the role faith has played in their lives.
In his 31-year NFL career, Dungy's teams reached the playoffs 21 times. He won the Super Bowl twice - as a safety with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1979 and as coach of the Indianapolis Colts in 2007. That means his teams came up short 19 times - some in heartbreaking losses - he told a crowd of more than 600.
When asked how he rebounded, Dungy recalled what Steelers coach Chuck Noll told him as a rookie: Welcome to the NFL. It's a great game, but it's just a game.
Even the most successful athletes can fall. Just look at Tiger Woods and Michael Vick, Dungy said.
Dungy said he does not know Woods, whose image has been tarnished by infidelity, but he served as a mentor to Vick, who returned to the field this year after serving time in prison for dog fighting. Dungy said he asked the star quarterback where God was in his life when he signed a $130-million contract with the Atlanta Falcons and his jersey was flying off the shelves.
Vick said he had been raised to believe in God and that he had prayed to play in the NFL. After he made it, he stopped praying.
"I said, 'Mike, what you realize now is you were asking for the wrong thing,'" Dungy said. "He was running the wrong race."
Vick now makes far less money playing for the Philadelphia Eagles and is not the marquee quarterback he used to be, but he's happier than ever, Dungy said.
Dungy also said he was praying for Urban Meyer, who recently announced he was taking a leave of absence after coaching the University of Florida to two national football championships.
Hearing Dungy refer to those three men's struggles was a tearjerker, said Stephanie Waiters, who works for Palmetto First Baptist Church in Manatee County.
Waiters set out at 5:30 a.m. with 25 Palmetto High School football, volleyball, basketball and soccer players to hear Dungy. She said Dungy inspired them to keep trying, even if they lose the big games.
Dungy praised Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald and Auburn coach Gene Chizik for the balance they strike.
"They coach hard. They coach to win. They develop winners," Dungy said. "But they develop men in the right way."
Northwestern wide receiver Andrew Brewer, who has been active in expanding Northwestern's Fellowship of Christian Athletes chapter, said he tries to keep things in perspective.
"Football is something we all do and we all enjoy," he told the crowd before Dungy's speech. "But it's not who I am. I'm a man of God and a man of Christ."
Monday, January 4, 2010