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“My values are love of family and respect for others and the toughness to last through hard times. They are a part of life. My mother taught me to take life in stride. When things go bad I look at it as a loss. It’s how you rebound that is important. Every Samoan kid needs to take what he learns from his parents: Do the best you can do in everything you do and never lose that attitude.”
— Pulu Poumele
Quoted in Oct. 29, 1994 Tucson Citizen article
Many of Pulu Poumele’s teammates at Arizona from 1991 to 1994 took to social media Saturday after learning about the passing of their widely respected friend early in the morning.
Poumele, 44, could not be revived after collapsing while playing basketball with friends at Oceanside (Calif.) High School, where he was a physical education teacher and defensive coordinator of the school.
He was a cousin of former Oceanside great and Pro Football Hall of Famer Junior Seau. Poumele leaves a wife, Dr. Jessica Poumele, and five children. His oldest son, P.J., played linebacker for Oceanside last season and graduated on Thursday.
David Rodriguez moved from Sahuarita High School to become Oceanside’s head coach before last season. Poumele was the defensive coordinator there since 2014 after head coaching stints at San Marcos (Calif.) in 2009 and El Camino (Calif.) from 2010 to 2013.
“Pulu was an amazing, loving guy,” Rodriguez told the San Diego Union-Tribune. “We’ve lost a great coach, but more so a great father and man. The Oceanside community, the football community, has lost a favorite son.”
“One of my favorite college teammates passed away!” former Arizona teammate Brant Boyer, a linebacker during the Desert Swarm era, wrote on his Facebook wall. “He was one hell of a guy and always treated people great. RIP my man, you will be greatly missed!! Prayers to the Pulu Poumele Family. The entire Bear Down family is here to help if you or your family needs anything!!
Fellow offensive lineman Joe Smigiel, now the offensive line coach at Newbury Park (Calif.) High School:
“Today I found out the world has lost a great teammate, husband, father and mentor. I had the privilege to go to war with him on two teams and he always had a special place in my heart. Just yesterday we talked about helping another teammate Warner Smith. He touched many young lives and had a huge heart. My prayers go out to his entire family. Pulu Poumele you will be missed. RIP.”
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— Arizona Football (@ArizonaFBall) June 4, 2016
— The Union-Tribune (@sdut) June 4, 2016
We are saddened to learn that Pulu Poumele, from the Desert Swarm era, passed away today. Our thoughts & prayers are w/his family & friends.
— Greg Byrne (@Greg_Byrne) June 4, 2016
Arizona football is mourning the loss of Pulu Poumele (1990-94). Still time to help his teammate, Warner Smith: https://t.co/iHBYctPJH1
— Anthony Gimino (@AGWildcatReport) June 4, 2016
Smith, who also starred on the offensive line at Arizona when Poumele and Smigiel played, is suffering from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). A fundraiser for Smith is organized for June 24 and 25 at the J.W. Marriott Starr Pass Resort and Spa.
Smith wrote on his Facebook wall of Poumele’s passing: “My heart is broken this morning! Pulu Poumele, my brother, you had the kindest, gentlest soul. RIP!!!”
Former Arizona quarterback George Malauulu, the benefactor of many tackle-eliminating blocks by Poumele, wrote:
“I woke up to sad news this morning. My brotha Pulu Poumele has gone on to be w the Lord. I pray a peace and comforting spirit over Jessica Poumele and the children. Know that God is in control and Pulu is living the life we are all destined to achieve. I will miss you my brotha. Until we meet again. #Alwayslove Btw tell Navy we said what’s up! Love you Pulu. Isaiah 41:10”
A 1994 Tucson Citizen article provided detail about Poumele’s development as a person and football player including his family values with his Samoan background.
“Family is such a big part of my life,” Poumele said in the article. “There is so much love there that is never compromised. My parents taught me no matter what you do, good or bad, they will love you and support you.”
A 1990 Oceanside graduate and sociology major at Arizona, Poumele signed to play in the NFL as an undrafted free agent. He played two seasons with the Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens, one with the San Diego Chargers and two with Toronto in the Canadian Football League.
Funeral arrangements are pending.
“Damn. You know, all of us ex-athletes know what it’s like to be thrown into a giant mixing pot of different personalities, cultures, race, families and geography,” former Arizona defensive back Heath Bray wrote on his Facebook wall. “It really is an amazing experience to go through. You meet, and become truly brothers, with men that you most likely would never meet otherwise. Some you like for being tough, some you like for being smart, fast, strong, whatever.
“Each guy has his own set of strengths to bring to the table. My friend Pulu Poumele brought damn near all of them. The best though, in my opinion, and I am sure is shared by most, was that he was the nicest damn guy around. Always smiling, and never let anyone hurt you, always had your back. I am a better person today for having the pleasure of being close to him for the last 25 years. He is gone, but there is a small part of me that is better and stronger for knowing him. All of us lost something good in the world today.
“Pulu will be waiting there for me, I know it, with a smile and a hug for his palagi brother.”
ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.