More than a game: Talanoa Hufanga uses Polynesian Bowl week to strengthen cultural roots

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - USC has been Talanoa Hufanga's dream school since he was a child. And now that he's just two weeks out from walking on the Southern California campus, Hufanga is walking in dreamland - and being a part of the 2018 Polynesian Bowl festivities this week has him on cloud nine.

"It's like vacation to me, honestly. It's recess," Hufanga said of how much he's enjoying his week on Oahu. "You go out here and just being around all the guys you get to play with, I've been around the Army game, I got to play with these guys … it's the culture; it's all vibes, you just gotta live off that. It's the time of our life and you have to make everything the best of it."

A five-star athlete coming out of Oregon, Hufanga leans on his Tongan culture as his sense of identity. And being around so many Polynesians his age in the islands, Hufanga feels at home.

"It's cool to just be around it, around the Poly guys," Hufanga said. "I think that's one reason why I chose USC and that's because of the Polys and the vibe … It's amazing. It's hands down, the best culture. You look at these guys, they're gonna take a life for you. They're going to be there for you no matter what. And being on your side to support you, whether you're famous or not. And that's why this culture is so special."

Hufanga's excitement is evident, but what he's even more excited about than the game itself is showing players from other states the history and significance of Polynesian culture.

"There's a couple guys from Oregon coming here that are never around it, so I gotta teach them," Hufanga said. "Like, you're going to hear people speak pidgin around here and they're like, 'What's pidgin? I've never heard of that - is that a language?' It's going to be a learning experience for some of them and it's the best experience they're gonna live, in my opinion."

Win or lose, Hufanga wants to make the most out of this experience for himself and his new friends.

"Football wise, I'm just excited to play with the guys. Obviously we got to win, I love winning," he said. "But at the same time, you're just building relationships. And I'm kind of conquering the fear of sharks, so hopefully I can swim in the ocean. I'm not big on sharks, but I'm an island. You gotta put me in the water."

Hufanga will test the waters against some of the country's best Polynesian high school football players this Saturday at Aloha Stadium. He's already been impressed by what he's seen over the past few days.

"It's definitely a different vibe for me. It's crazy. Coming from Oregon, you play against guys and some of them are good. But here, you got to keep up," Hufanga said. "It's like a switch was clicked, like you turn the lights on and off. It's really and truly a great experience and it's kind of getting me ready for the next level."

Kickoff for the 2018 Polynesian Bowl is set for 6:15 p.m. HT.

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