— Sports Illustrated ran a story in 2003 about the fortunes of Samoan football players in America, with part of the article dedicated to Dick Tomey’s recruitment of Polynesian players.
— The Polynesian Football Hall of Fame has its own Web site with additional information
Arizona has a long and productive history of showcasing Polynesian talent on the football field and some of those former Wildcats will likely soon be honored for their exploits.
Former Arizona coach Dick Tomey, a Hawaii resident who coached the Rainbows before heading to Tucson in 1987, was responsible for bringing many Polynesian standouts to the UA program. Among them are former quarterback George Malauulu (Arizona’s leading passer from 1990-93) and defensive lineman Joe Salave’a (an All-Pac-10 defensive tackle in 1997 who played nine seasons in the NFL).
Tomey will have a voice in who earns the honor of being inducted in the recently established Polynesian Hall of Fame. He is part of the selection committee that will include former BYU coach LaVell Edwards and Utah coach Ron McBride (a former Tomey assistant at Arizona).
Former San Francisco 49ers center Jesse Sapolu is one of the co-founders who announced the creation the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame on Wednesday. The Polynesian Football Hall of Fame will honor Polynesia’s best football players, coaches and contributors to the sport. The Hall of Fame will be located in Honolulu.
The Inaugural Polynesian Hall of Fame Enshrinement Ceremony will be on Thurs., Jan. 23, prior to the NFL Pro Bowl.
“There have been many Polynesian football players that have made a profound impact on the game we all love,” Sapolu said in a statement. “It is our responsibility to honor these legends and help educate our young people about their significant contribution to Polynesian history and football.”
From the nominees, 24 Finalists (20 players and four coaches/contributors) will be selected and announced Thurs., Sept. 12. From the Finalists, seven inductees (six players and one coach/contributor) will be selected as the inaugural class and announced Wed., Oct. 9.
The inaugural class will not include Sapolu and the Polynesian Hall of Fame Board of Directors. The members of the board include former Denver defensive end and co-founder Ma’a Tanuvasa, two-time Pro Bowler Vai Sikahema (a former Arizona Cardinals player), former Philadelphia Eagles running back Reno Mahe, Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu and former Hawaii head coach June Jones, who currently is the head coach at SMU.
Arizona’s history of standout Polynesian football players, in addition to Malauulu and Salave’a, includes at least a dozen players that advanced to the NFL. Tomey was responsible from bringing 11 to Tucson during his UA tenure from 1987-2000. Here is a list of some of the standouts:
— Stan Mataele, nose guard (1985-86), a second-team All-Pac-10 selection in 1986.
— Willie Tuitama, quarterback (2005-08), second in career passing yards (9,211) at Arizona.
— Mu Tagoai, offensive line (1991-94), a 1993 selection of the All-Samoan All-Star Team
— Pulu Poumele, offensive line (1990-94), a 1994 selection of the All-Samoan All-Star Team
— Edwin Mulitalo, offensive tackle (1997-98), 10-year NFL veteran drafted in the fourth round in 1999 by Baltimore
— Brandon Manumaleuna, tight end (1997-2000), also a 10-year NFL veteran drafted in the fourth round in 2001 by St. Louis
— Van Tuinei, defensive end (1995-96), four-year NFL veteran who led the UA with three fumble recoveries in 1996
— Makoa Freitas, offensive line (1998-2002), second-team All-Pac-10 selection in 2002 who was drafted in sixth round by Indianapolis in 2003
— Makai Freitas, offensive line (1997-2000), invited to play in the 2001 Hula Bowl
— Steven Grace, offensive line (1998-2001), second-team All-Pac-10 selection in 2001
— Kiliona Lefotu, offensive line (2002-2005), seventh-round selection by Washington in 2006
— Manuia Savea, offensive line (1998-99), sevent-round selection by Cleveland in 2000
NOTES: Taimi Tutogi, a fullback/defensive line from 2009-11, was invited to Tampa Bay’s rookie mini-camp in April and is still aspiring to be a pro football player. … Brothers Keoni and Keoki Fraser, who attended Arizona in the late 1990s and early 2000s, are also of Polynesian descent. Keoni led the UA with five fumble recoveries in 2000. Keoki was an Arizona team captain in 2004.
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WILDABOUTAZCATS.net publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He also writes blogs for Lindy’s College Sports, TucsonCitizen.com and Sports Illustrated-sponsored site ZonaZealots.com.