January 3, 2013
- Albert “Al” Lolotai (June 22, 1920 – September 1990) was the first Samoan and the first Polynesian to play in the National Football League (NFL). He played for the Washington Redskins for five seasons in the 1940s before switching to professional wrestling in 1950. In 2010, 60 Minutes reported that there were 30 Samoans in the NFL and “a boy born to Samoan parents is 56 times more likely to get into the NFL than any other kid in America.” While some have questioned these numbers, there is no doubt that the Samoan islands have provided some impressive football players. At the beginning of the 2012-2013 NFL season, it was reported that the list of Polynesian players in the NFL had grown to 50 and included 17 Samoans, 15 Tongans, and 1 Hawaiian. While we have only highlighted ten players, there are several other active and historical Samoan players that have made quite an impression on American football.
- Troy Aumua Polamalu was born Troy Aumua in Garden Grove, California on April 19, 1981, the youngest of five children with one brother and three sisters. At the age of nine, Troy moved in with his Aunt, Uncle, and cousins in Tenmile, Oregon. In 2007, he legally changed his last name to his mother’s maiden name Polamalu. Troy attended the University of Southern California (USC), majoring in Social Sciences and History, and played baseball, basketball, and football. At USC, he also learned to read music and play piano. In 2003, Troy was drafted 16th overall in the first round by the Pittsburgh Steelers. His career highlights include six Pro Bowls, two Super Bowl Championships, the NFL 2000s All-Decade Team, and many others. He was also the first Pacific Islander to appear on the cover of a Madden game (Madden 2009).
Polamalu may be a tough football player, but off the field he is a gentle family man. He and his wife Theodora (sister to Alex and Khaled Holmes) have two sons Paisios (4) and Ephraim (2). Troy and Theodora joined the Greek Orthodox church in 2007 and named their children after well-known saints. Polamalu also makes the sign of the cross (from right to left per Eastern Orthodox tradition) after every play. The Polamalu family resides in Pittsburgh during football season and in San Diego, California during the off-season, where Troy enjoys surfing, growing flowers, building furniture, and playing the piano.
- Samson Satele was born November 29, 1984, in Kailua, Hawaii. His uncle, Alvis Satele was a linebacker for the San Diego Chargers, and his cousin Hercules Satele was signed by the Arizona Cardinals in 2008. Samson played football all four years while at the University of Hawaii, majoring in Sociology. In the 2007 NFL Draft, Satele was selected in the second round (60th overall) by the Miami Dolphins. Impressively, as a rookie, he started all four preseason games and all 16 regular season games. Satele played two seasons in Miami, three with the Oakland Raiders, and in 2012 Indianapolis was happy to welcome him to the Colts, replacing Jeff Saturday at Center. Samson and his wife Lenora, have three young sons: Samson Lototoa (4), Trison Aloali’i (2) and Tayden Lavea’i.
- Domata Peko was born November 27, 1984, in Pago Pago, American Samoa. His brother Tupe played in the NFL for the New York Jets, Indianapolis Colts, and Green Bay Packers. Domata did not step onto a football field before his senior year of high school. He started his college career at College of the Canyons before transferring to Michigan State University where he majored in Sociology. Domata was drafted in the 4th round (123rd pick overall) of the 2006 NFL Draft by the Cincinnati Bengals. His wife is named Anna; together they have two sons Domata Jr. and Joseph. Domata plays defensive tackle for the Bengals as #94.
- Matt Toeaina was born October 9, 1984, in San Francisco, California. When Matt was seven, his younger brother Simi, three at the time, was hit by a car and both his legs were shattered. When Matt was 11, his older brother Abiel, 15 at the time, was tragically killed by gunfire. The family moved to Pago Pago, American Samoa. Eventually Toeina tattooed “Abiel” on the back of his neck. Growing up, Toeina has said that everything he did other than football revolved around the church. He earned a scholarship to play at Oregon. In the 2007 NFL Draft, the Cincinnati Bengals chose him in the sixth round. He was signed by the Chicago Bears as a Defensive Tackle on December 12, 2007. In December 2012, he was placed on the injured reserve list with a knee injury.
- Al Afalava was born on January 20, 1987 in Kahuku, Hawai’i. Although basketball was Afalava’s preferred sport growing up, his father convinced him during his junior year of high school that he was more likely to earn a scholarship playing football. He was able to play football at Oregon State University, and he was drafted by the Chicago Bears in the sixth round of the 2009 NFL Draft. He played with the Bears and the Indianapolis Colts before the Tennessee Titans signed him as a free agent in January 2012. Currently, he, his wife Jerrell, and their sons Darius, Daynian, and Drayson split their time between Nashville and Kahuku, Hawai’i.
- Ropati Pitoitua was born April 6, 1985, in Samoa, to Sooalo and Faipinie Pitoitua. Ropati has an older brother named Maeli and four sisters, Leutu, twins Vaiava and Leao, and Runal. He played basketball in high school, but did not play football until his junior year. He attended Washington State University where he was a humanities major. Pitoitua was signed by the New York Jets as an undrafted free agent in 2008. He injured his Achilles’ tendon in 2010, but was signed by the Kansas City Chiefs May 2012. At 6’8″ and 315 pounds, the Chiefs did not think that even an Achilles’ injury would allow other players to block him, and he has put up good numbers this season.
- Isaac Sopoaga was born September 4, 1981, in Pago Pago, American Samoa. He says that he developed his throwing arm by launching rocks at coconuts in trees 70 feet over his head to knock them to the ground. Sopoaga grew up playing rugby, but was drafted in the 4th round of the 2004 NFL Draft (104th overall) by the San Francisco 49ers to play football. He missed his first entire NFL season with an injury, but has since played for the niners as a nose tackle/fullback.
- Rey Mauluga was born January 20, 1987, to Talatonu and Tina Mauluga in Fort Sill, Oklahoma, where is father was stationed with the United States Army. Within just a few months, the Mauluga family moved to Waipahu, Hawai’i. He was active in the First Samoan Full Gospel Pentecostal Church growing up until his family moved to Oxnard, California, when Rey was in the sixth grade. He attended the University of Southern California, playing football for coach Pete Carroll. He could have been drafted his junior year, but he elected to stay and graduate with a degree in Sociology. Mauluga has Samoan tattoos on his arms and legs. He is known to be humorous, thoughtful, sincere, focused, loyal, and a leader. This year he was named Captain by the Cincinnati Bengals.
- Roy Miller was born July 9, 1987, in Fort Lewis, Washington. His father was in the U.S. Army, so the family moved around when Roy was young. They moved to Fort Eustis, Virginia, in 1989 for seven years, then moved to Killeen, Texas. He was picked by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 3rd round (81st overall) of the 2009 NFL draft, and he has spent his career with them. Hardworking, on and off the field, Roy Miller has tried to give back to every community in which he has resided. While at the University of Texas, he spoke to local middle and high schools, visited the Austin Children’s Hospital, and mentored at local youth centers. He also organized an event where his teammates interacted with wounded soldiers at Fort Sam Houston near San Antonio. In Tampa Bay, he spends time with an organization for foster kids called the Joshua House, participates in the Children’s Cancer Center Christmas Party, and many of the Glazer families foundation events.
- Paul Soliai was born Decmeber 30, 1983, in Santa Ana, California. Soliai moved to American Samoa for his senior year of high school where he attended Nu’uuli Technical High School in Pago Pago. In the 2007 NFL Draft, he was chosen by the Miami Dolphins in the fourth round (108th overall). In the 2009 tsunami, Soliai lost 12 family members. In addition to football, Soliai founded the Paul Soliai Foundation “to provide undeserved and/or underprivileged Pacific Island students the framework and stage to achieve excellence through arts and education. “
Photo 1 Credit: Chris Baldwin for ESPN The Magazine
Photo 2 Credit: Samoan Bios