4 days of South Pacific Games 2019 in Apia, Samoa and Samoa looks good.
THE RISE OF THE SAMOAN QUARTERBACK
4 days of South Pacific Games 2019 in Apia, Samoa and Samoa looks good.
THE RISE OF THE SAMOAN QUARTERBACK
The South Pacific Games have started in Apia. The games were supposed to be held in Tonga but the Tongan government decided that they were not ready to host the games and declined the offer. Samoa's Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Malielegaoi saw an opportunity and offered to host the games in Apia. Samoa has now played host to these games twice in the last 12 years however this time these are the largest South Pacific Games ever seen. There will be 29 sports available in these games.
There were 5000 athletes present at the Opening Ceremonies which was held on Sunday, July 7, 2019. There was a major issue that presented itself for the organizers when the EFKS church which was supposed to provide the entertainment for the evening pulled out the week of the event stating that they were not aware the Opening was going to be held on Sunday. The church which has a number of schools whose students were to perform decided to honor the Sabbath and not participate. This caused a last minute scramble to find performers who would be able to fulfill their role of dancing and entertaining thousands of athletes from around the Pacific as well as those who were in attendance and watching via social media or television. As it turned out they were able to put together a fabulous show and the weather actually cooperated for the opening ceremonies. In his speech Prime Minister Tuilaepa thanked China, Australia, New Zealand as well as the regional organisations which helped fund the Games.
It had been raining the entire week of the games and then there was a respite for the Opening Ceremonies when the time came. Some were adamant this was a sign from above, others were less convinced. But the politics of the EFKS vs. the Government were not as important as the Games themselves and the next day the games officially began in earnest.
The usual powerhouses of Fiji and New Caledonia were early medal winners however, Samoa has been quite successful with gold medals in Archery, Swimming and Lawn Bowling in the first 4 days of the games.
One young man is becoming a rather popular star for the Samoan community, Brandon Schuster, who has won 2 medals in swimming. He won his first medal winning the 200m backstroke and then he won another in the 400m individual medley.
Not to be outdone the girls are also winning gold. Lushavel Strickland, who is also swimming for Samoa, won Gold in the first 4 days of competition. She won the 50m backstroke. Meanwhile a third Samoan swimmer Lauren Sale also won gold in her race, the 200m backstroke.
The first gold medal won by Samoa in these games was by a young lady archer Jil Walter. Another gold medal was won by the duo of Lealaiauloto Tiatia and his partner Tupa'i Avala in the lawn bowling contest,
As of the 4th day of these 2019 South Pacific Games the Samoan team have won 18 medals all together: 6 gold medals, 2 Silver and 10 Bronze. This is already an impressive haul but we anticipate more medals before the games are through. Overall New Caledonia have the most medals. These games are turning into quite a competitive event. Here are the medal tally for the first 4 days.
By Albert Ainuu
I remember there used to be a Judge in Samoa who was from New Zealand. When he was new to the islands he would preside over criminal court cases where the defendant was charged with manslaughter or serious battery due to a serious injury or death caused by a rock being thrown from a long distance hitting the victim and causing either death or serious injury. This judge would dismiss these accusations because he was not convinced a person could throw a rock that big and at that velocity over that distance with such accuracy sufficient to cause that kind of injury. One day as the judge was driving back to Apia from the Airport in Faleolo he passed a group of men who were throwing rocks up a coconut tree and he was shocked when he saw how high up the coconut tree these young men were throwing and the size of the rocks they were throwing, He also noted how accurate they were that they hit the ripe coconuts and when the rocks impacted the coconuts they practically exploded from the tree and fell to the earth. After that whenever a defendant was brought for a stone caused injury he went straight to jail. The Judge was convinced that throwing rocks was a deadly weapon in the hands of a Samoan.
American Football is a sport that requires the quarterback to throw the ball (or the “rock” as colloquially referred to) to a receiver. This is the highest level of American athletic achievement, throwing the ball to a receiver on a football field with over 20 players running in different directions. It’s more complicated than this but basically it requires good throwing arms and smart decisive athletes.
Samoans have played football for over 60 years in the USA. Ever since they arrived on the shores of the USA they were highly prized as football players because they were large, fast and loved to hit. Originally Samoans were drafted in the NFL as Defensive players, then they were drafted for the Offensive line, then a few became known as running backs and wide receivers. This was as far as the Samoan football player was expected to go. The quarterback was a position usually reserved for a rather cerebral person due to the complications of the offensive schemes and the defensive coverages which also needed to be read accurately to avoid the dreaded interception. In many coaches minds the Samoan was a great athlete and could play most positions instinctively. That was their strength, however, they were not normally considered cerebral which the position of quarterback was presumed to be. So for many years Samoans were stereotyped into playing the more physical positions on the line or as Linebackers which they were very successful at, but quarterback was not a position they were normally considered appropriate for.
The first Samoan who made it as a quarterback was Jack Thompson out of Washington State, who in 1979 was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals. He was drafted number 3 by the Bengals and played in the NFL for 5 years before retiring. A few others such as Joe Paopao, George Malauulu, Samoa Samoa, Jr., Sal Aunese, Jr., and a few others made it to the Canadian Football league or ended their throwing days playing in college.
There was another amazing Samoan quarterback who came up during the late 1990s and early 2000s who was very good he was the son of former NFL great Manu Tuiasosopo.
Marques Tuiasosopo was a record setting quarterback for the University of Washington Huskies Football team. He was the only quarterback in college history to rush for over 200 yards and pass for 300 yards in a game. He led the University of Washington to a Pac 10 championship and a victory in the Rose Bowl against Drew Brees and Purdue at the time. He was eventually drafted by the Raiders in the NFL where he played for 7 years for the Raiders and the New York Jets.
Then in the 2000s the University of Oregon hired a new coach and he was an offensive genius who had a Samoan quarterback leading his innovative offense. Coach Chip Kelly the enigmatic coach of the Oregon Ducks was causing quite a stir in the Pac 10 conference with his high octane offense but what was important was he entrusted the young Jeremiah Masoli, a Samoan Junior college All Star who came from the Bay Area after winning the National Junior College title with the City of San Francisco College, to run his complicated offense. Masoli became the perfect fit for the Oregon Offense under Chip Kelly as he could run as well as throw accurately however his status as a potential Heisman winning Quarterback at Oregon became derailed as he was caught up in a controversial accusation for stealing, which he disputes, and as a result was released from the team. He went on to play at Mississippi and is now playing professionally in the Canadian Football League.
This was actually the start of the rise of the Samoan Quarterback. As Masoli had proved, handling a complicated offense was not a problem for Samoan athletes. And they did play the position instinctively, as they did for nearly every other position they excelled at. This was an advantage where time was of the essence and there was not much time to be able to calculate all the scenarios in one’s mind and decide where to throw in the short amount of time between snap of the ball and sack by a huge defensive lineman. Instinct is a quality that is not encouraged in the positions where the decision of the leader needs to consider all the possible results of any course of action. However, this is exactly the moment for instinct.
The Quarterback position demands quick decisive actions. The ability of the Quarterback to read the defense and make a decision within 5 seconds or less means the person who is at that position needs to be either super human in his ability to decipher information or is lucky as heck. Many of the great quarterbacks have risen to that level from experience and for many hours and hours of studying plays and formations. Nowadays many quarterbacks spend endless hours evaluating video tape of their opponents to recognize formations which will indicate what the defense will do on any given moment during a game. It lends itself to a big brain and intellect of a computer scientist, which is why there was this bias per se against the Samoan Quarterback as Samoans were never known for their intellect especially in High School, where mostly coming from lower income communities Samoans were usually more athletic than intellectual.
But Chip Kelly, the Coach of Oregon, who would later go on to coach in the NFL for the Eagles and has since returned to the college ranks to coach at UCLA, was quite influential in the rise of the Samoan Quarterback. For whatever reason, he was most successful when he had a Samoan Quarterback. After Masoli was let go Oregon University floundered for 2 years until a new Samoan Quarterback from Honolulu, Hawaii arrived. Marcus Mariota reignited the Chip Kelly offensive machine and Oregon became Pac 10 Champions and eventually lost to Ohio State in the 2014 College Football Championship game. Marcus Mariota also was the first Samoan to ever win the Heisman Trophy in 2014, the highest award in American College Football. He went on to be drafted by the Tennessee Titans and has been excellent as a quarterback in the NFL.
When Marcus Mariota won the Heisman trophy there were those who believed Samoan Quarterbacks were an anomaly. Marcus Mariota was just a rarity, a single Quarterback among a nation of Linebackers. But this was not the case.
,Following on the heels of Marcus Mariota, who attended St Louis High School in Honolulu, was another young Samoan Quarterback who led St. Louis to the State High School Championship in Hawaii. The young man was Tua Tagovailoa. He had followed Marcus Mariota’s career with great interest as Marcus won the Heisman and during his acceptance speech challenged the other Polynesians in High School and College to join him as a Heisman Trophy winner. Tua took the challenge to heart and so did his father who was instrumental in his development. But they were not destined for the West Coast although there were those recruiting him from the West coast, including the University of Oregon, Tua and his family had bigger plans. They went straight to the SEC and were recruited and signed with the winningest program in College Football, the University of Alabama. Crimson Tide!
What was astounding about this decision was that the SEC is regarded as the best college conference in the country. It has the toughest schedule and the opponents during the course of the regular season are usually top 10 level. Rarely had a Polynesian been recruited by these schools who had a huge recruiting base in the south and the east coast. They never needed to come far west. Certainly never as far as Hawaii. But his was a move that Coach Nick Saban was convinced would pay dividends for his already dominant program.
Tua, whose last name is a tongue twister for most announcers, now the Southern twang of the SEC would be accustomed to pronouncing this Samoan name: Tagovailoa. It was a gamble by the school as well as the family of Tua, who moved to Alabama to be near their son. He was not the starter in his first season. He was playing behind the 2nd year quarterback, Jalen Hurts who was an outstanding athlete and leader for the SEC leading Crimson Tide. But as the first year wound down and Alabama found itself in the expected spot of competing in the National Championship game against formidable SEC opponent Georgia, Coach Saban made a call that would forever be remembered in Alabama football folklore.
The Championship game was not going well as the Alabama team was kept out of the endzone by a stingy Georgia Defense. At half time with no points on the board. Coach Saban made a switch at Quarterback, something never ever done by a coach at such a game of national importance before. He sat his starter in favor of the true freshman Tua Tagovailoa going into the 2nd half and the rest as they say, is history.
Immediately Alabama‘s offensive production changed. The swagger of the Crimson Tide was back. They scored and eventually tied the game as time ran out, mostly on the arm of Tua who’s pinpoint accurate passes were caught by Alabama receivers in mid stride. The ability of Tua to create points was clearly evident as Alabama, a school known for a dominant running game, became this high powered air attack. It was devastating for the Georgia Bulldogs who had done so much to shut down Alabama through one half only to see their lead disappear as Tua destroyed their defense. Tua’s accuracy and velocity were on display for the entire nation to see as this game was one of the most watched games on Television. It came down to Tua coming back from a sack that put him at a 3rd and long situation which he calmly and instinctively knew what to do. He looked the defensive safety away from his target, a streaking DeVonta Smith, who Tua looked at only when he released the throw that caught Smith in stride for the touchdown and national Championship. This gave Coach Saban and Alabama yet another National championship, but this time he was indebted to a young freshman Samoan Quarterback whom he trusted with biggest game of the year on the line.
This game solidified for many coaches in the college game the value of the Samoan quarterback. The natural leadership qualities, the ability to come back from a devastating last play. a short term memory of mistakes, humility, coachability and a refusal to quit put together a testimonial reel of what they can expect from a Samoan Quarterback. This was a confirmation that Marcus Mariota’s Heisman trophy win was not a fluke. It was legitimate and Tua Tagovailoa is a legitimate threat to win another.
The Tua Tagovailoa story is indeed one to end this article on had this been the only other Samoan quarterback story available. Although Tua has gone on from the Georgia game last year to an amazing 2nd year with Alabama as the starter where he only missed winning the Heisman due to injury, however, this is only the start of the story. It is far from over. The Samoan Quarterback trickle is about to turn into a steady flow of potential amazing young athletes who can manage the most demanding position in team sports with poise and creativity. The Samoan quarterback is no longer a rarity, if anything it is becoming a trend. Young Samoan football players are now being considered as potential quarterbacks by High School coaches due to the qualities I have listed above. The list of new quarterbacks of Samoan descent is growing.
Here are some of the new crop of Samoan Quarterbacks
The latest Samoan QB phenomenon is the young DJ Uiagalelei (good luck to the announcers when they get that name on a regular basis). DJ is considered the top High School Quarterback as College prospect in the nation. He is the prototypical Quarterback physically as he stands 6 foot 5 inches tall, but is only a Junior. He still has one more year to go at St. John Bosco High School of Los Angeles. His stats and his ability are off the charts. This year St John Bosco were at the top of the California High School teams for most of the year. He set the record for the longest throw for his age group with a monumental heave of 85 yards during the Summer break. He has all the right tools and he also is accurate. Then he can break off long runs when needed to. Colleges are lining up to recruit him to play for their college. Chip Kelly of UCLA is right there although DJ recently went to visit a number of schools all over the country including the SEC and the Alabama rival Clemson. He will be the most sought after quarterback after he graduates High School next year.
Other quarterbacks of Samoan ancestry have begun to sprout up all over the country. In the college ranks Jordan Taamu of Ole Miss and Sefo Liufau of Colorado. In the High school ranks Tua Tagovailoa’s younger brother, Taulia Tagovailoa is making a name for himself as signal caller in a high school in Alabama.
This can be called the golden age of the Samoan Quarterback. Never before have we seen so many top ranked Samoan athletes at this position at the same time and it seems to indicate there are many more coming up through the ranks.
If that Judge in Samoa were still alive today, he would not be surprised at this development as he would testify that Samoans are a natural with their ability to throw the rock accurately and with proper speed. But not only this the trend emphasizes what we as Samoans have known all along, we can rely on our instincts in any situation and succeed. This talent has become the biggest attraction for Samoan athletes in this era and it is our time to shine.