Everybody knows the University of Arizona football program recruits heavily in California. After all, it’s right next door.
But the Wildcats also have a pot of gold about 6,000 miles away.
All Arizona had to do was get the first couple of recruits from the Pacific Islands and then sit back while all of their relatives started showing up. And that’s been going on for more than 20 years.
Over the years, the University of Arizona has become a 6,000-mile pipeline to the NFL. The program has built a tradition of recruiting Samoans and players of Polynesian heritage. It all started, so the story goes, with former head coach Dick Tomey, who had also been head coach at Hawaii. He reportedly had as many as 120 Samoan players in his programs at both schools over the years.
And the latest UofA recruit just entered the pipeline from American Samoa.
Aiulua Fanene, a 6’5″, 280 lb. defensive lineman, has signed on for next season and will join several Pacific Islanders already on the UofA roster. He was a two-way player at Tafuna High School in American Samoa, where he was a first-team All-Star last season, Co-offensive Player of the Year, and helped take his team to the state championship game.
He might also be remembered for being included in the recent “60 Minutes” television feature on football in Samoa.
Fanene was recruited by Mike Tuiasosopo, the defensive tackles coach at UofA.
Yep, you guessed it. Tuiasosopo was born in Samoa and had recruited Aiulua’s brother, Jonathan, when he was at Utah. Jonathan is now a defensive end in the NFL, playing for the Cincinnati Bengals.
Others with Polynesian ties that have made it to the NFL via Tucson include offensive and defensive linemen like Joe Salave’a, Mau Savea, Stan Mataele, Mu Tagoai, Pulu Poumele, Edwin Mulitalo, Kili Lefotu, Steven Grace, Makai Freitas, Makoa Freitas, Van Tuinei, and a tight end, Brandon Manumaleuna.
And here’s a ‘didja know’ question: Did you know that, on a per capita basis, it’s Hawaii, not Texas or Florida, that produces the most players on college teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision? Football is a big part of the Polynesian way of life.
In a Sports Illustrated article, Tomey once said that he welcomed the Samoan athletes because they were not only competitive and athletic, but also were very family-oriented and fit well into the team concept.
So Mike Stoops is now welcoming them into his football family. With open arms and a big smile.