NFL Players give back to their roots

Paul Soliai
Paul Soliai
Mel Purcell
Mel Purcell
Reagan Mauia
Reagan Mauia
Jesse Sapolu
Jesse Sapolu

By Jason Tang bio | email

PAGO PAGO, AMERICAN SAMOA (KHNL)-- Life isn't easy for a young man in American Samoa. Opportunites to spread his wings and fly, are few and far between.

"in Samoa there's only two ways off the rock, you join the Army or you get a scholarship for education and sports," said Miami Dolphins Defensive Tackle Paul Soliai.

Soliai would know. He went to high school here, but was fortunate enough to use football as a vehicle to pursue education. Now he's back as an NFL player, and he's joined by other current and former pros of Samoan decent, to help give back to future generations.

"It's always a dream of mine to come back and teach the kids, the things that I went through and stuff like that. Try and give back as much as I can, you know I love this island, born and raised here, and i'll love it to death," said former UH Warrior and Cleveland Brown Defensive End Mel Purcell.

The players team up with Southern Methodist University head coach June Jones and Hawaii head coach Greg McMackin in the first ever June Jones American Samoa football academy.

"It's one of the greatest opportunities they'll come across. When I was here I didn't have anything like this, I didn't have guys from the pros, retired future hall of famers come back and give back to us. But i'm grateful I could come back and do something great for my people, for my home," said former UH Warrior and Miami Dolphin fullback Reagan Mauia.

Retired San Francisco 49ers offensive lineman Jesse Sapolu is a four-time NFL Super Bowl champion. and though he's never lived in American Samoa, he's visited many times, and he sees a lot of potential in the young men.

"The floodgates are starting to open and the NFL is looking to make American Samoa the Dominican Republic of baseball on the football side so it's very exciting," said Sapolu, also a former UH Warrior.

Exciting for players past, present and future. But the trip also gave the NFL volunteers a chance to reflect on the path they've traveled, and the one they're laying, for others to follow.

"I saw one kid who didn't have any shoes on, who didn't have any cleats on, and that used to be me. When I left this island I didn't even have a shoe, so it just took me back and humbled me to see where i've come from," reflected Mauia.

Though the camp's primary focus is teaching the game of football, players also took the time to hit home on another subject.

"Always make education the first priority because without that, you can't go to colleges or anything like that," advised Purcell.

"Just be committed, just believe in yourself, because that's how you get places, that's how I did because I believed in myself," said Soliai.

And if enough of the kids take that to heart, players believe great things will happen.

"I just can't wait for the future and see some of the kids in the NFL, it'll be awesome," said Mauia.

And they hope the cycle of giving continues.

"I think for any Samoan who makes it to the next level, whether it's college or the NFL should come back to help out," said two time Super Bowl champion Ma'a Tanuvasa.

Something each of these players plan to do in the years to come.