UH Warriors visit two local recruits
Last month, the Head Coach of the University of Hawai’i’s Football Program, Nick Rolovich was on island with one of his assistant coaches, coach Legi Suiaunoa, in a rare trip to the territory to bond and meet with the families of their two top upcoming high school prospects, who will be joining the Warriors football program after they graduate from high school this upcoming spring.
They are: ASHSAA 2016-17 Football Most Valuable Player, Blessman Ta’ala who signed on with UH during the National Signing Day and ASHSAA’s 2016-17 Defensive Player of the Year, Penei Stowers-Pavihi who also signed with the Warriors during Signing Day.
Samoa News spoke to Rolovich about their unexpected trip to the island, as this is the first time the UH Warriors football program has made a special visit to the territory to welcome and touch base with their upcoming local players.
According to Rolovich this was his second trip to the territory, “But I feel like I learned so much more this time. That is due to spending time with our new Defensive Coordinator Legi Suiaunoa – who has been an incredible window into the culture and history of this island and its community.”
Rolovich told Samoa News, “Penei and Blessman have been on our recruiting radar since I got the job last year. Ever since the year 2000, when I first got to UH as a player, there has been consistent positive influence from players from American Samoa – and I wanted to make sure we did whatever we could to keep that relationship.”
He said, “The Samoan athlete has rich football history in UH Football history and there was no reason not to continue that with Penei and Blessman.”
Rolovich added, “When these two arrive, we will have 9 players from American Samoa on our roster and we are proud of that – with the recruiting calendar as it is, it was difficult to get down and visit with their families before Signing Day. They came for an official visit to UH and we made a plan to come see them after and show them the same respect we show all our recruits by spending time with their families.”
He said, “As a Head Coach, I feel it’s important for me to show that respect, because they are entrusting us with their children, the trust needs to be there.”
Rolovich noted, “No matter where our recruits are from, we believe they will fit in as long as they keep their priorities straight: Faith, family, academics and then football – in that order. With the seven other young men from American Samoa already on the roster, I believe that Blessman and Penei will have a solid support system socially.
“Not to mention the aloha spirit and the family atmosphere we have with our players. They will get a wonderful education while playing Division 1 football on a full scholarship – the next four years will set them up for the remainder of their lives, and that’s fun to be around,” he said.
When asked about the response he’s received from the families of Pavihi and Ta’ala, Rolovich told Samoa News it’s “been great, and I’ve really enjoyed getting to know them as people. Not only are Penei and Blessman in our Ohana now, but their families are now part of our Warrior Ohana, and we like it that way.”
He also said, “I have been very impressed by the importance of academics and families.”
Rolovich told Samoa News, “Our expectations for these two (Penei and Blessman) will be that they complete their degrees, give their best effort on the football field, and represent themselves, their families, and their culture in a positive way in the community — If they do those three things, we feel good things will happen for them both.”
Of his team’s visit, Head Coach Rolovich said, “The warm welcome we have felt from everyone has been incredible. We are just very appreciative of the coaches and the families for raising these young men to be such good people.
“There is no doubt Penei and Blessman will make Hawai’i football better because of the people they are. Looking forward to the 2018 class of American Samoan recruits because I would like to come back soon — I enjoyed my first taste of turkey tails and Samoan oka.”
Samoa News spoke to ASHSAA’s MVP of the Year for this past football season, Blessman Ta’ala, who led the Vikings to another championship title, about joining Rolovich and the Warrior football family.
He said, “The feeling of knowing that after high school I am secure at the University of Hawaii is just astonishing and also a blessing – having everything taken care of as a college student sounds like a relief to myself, especially my parents.”
Samoa News asked Ta’ala if he ever thought that he’d sign a football scholarship with UH when he was growing up, or did he have other colleges in mind, and he responded, “I have always had that kind of mentality when I played in the AYFS. I honestly had other colleges in mind until my injury occurred. That is when I sensed which college would take me in still, and in no surprise, University of Hawaii stuck with me till the end.
“I selected the University of Hawaii because I felt the ‘aiga’ or family atmosphere when I visited. They showed interest in me still when knowing I was injured. That shows how much trust they have in me. Being part of this program means so much…”
For his goals in life, Ta’ala told Samoa News that his focus is simple; “My goal when I play ball in Hawai’i is quite simple, be the best on the defensive side of the ball and earn defensive player.
“My goal in life is simply to give back to our community and also to people in poverty. I have always dreamt about helping people and I just want to succeed in life to make my dreams comes true. Making impact to other people's lives really matters to me most.”
Ta’ala spoke of his thanks to “first and foremost” God, to his loving parents and to his spiritual parents. He also thanks SPICC (South Pacific International Christian Center) “for building a solid foundation of serving God in my life.”
The young football player again thanked the UH coaching staff “for believing in me,” adding a thank you “to the coaching staff of the Aua Redskins, AYFS Bears, and lastly the coaching staff of Fagaitua High for teaching me the game of football.”
“He added, “Thank you to Keiki Misipeka and Rachel Jennings for helping me to be part of the recruitment. I want to thank all my teachers for pushing me in my academics. Thank you Ricky Fiso for the support you've provided for me and also on the FHS football program.
“And lastly, I want to thank everyone (Family & Friends) who I might have not mentioned that have impacted my life. I thank you all for everything and I pray for more blessings upon all who have been by my side throughout my journey. God bless.”
Samoa News spoke to the Defensive Player of the Year for ASHSAA previous football season, Penei Pavihi of Tafuna High School about his a full-ride scholarship to the UH, who said, “The feeling of still being a warrior after high school is just overwhelming. They treat us just like family. It’s really exciting that a great environment of people will surround me. It just puts a breathe of relief knowing that I’ll be well taken care of.
“To be honest, when I started playing football for the AYFS Chiefs, college ball was like the last thing on my mind. You know being a kid, I never really actually thought that years later I would be signing with UH. Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide Bama was my dream school, but I guess God has something better planned for my future,” he said.
When asked why he chose the University of Hawaii, Pavihi told Samoa News, “I selected UH because I felt like it was the best fit for me for the type of player I am. Since most of the returning defensive players are Samoan, it gives us an advantage over others because we could communicate better in a foreign language.”
According to Pavihi his goals and focus leading up to being part of the Warrior Ohana is to “become the best player I can be, to simply do the best I can to showcase the talent that people have overlooked on our tiny island.”
He said, “My goal in life is to succeed in all that I do so that I can give back to those who molded me into the person I am today especially my parents, family, friends, and coaches.”
Pavihi told Samoa News, “From the way it seems like if I can do what I did with what we have here just imagine with more knowledge and skills that off island offers what things that I am capable of doing. I feel like in order to stay consistent I need to up my game because it’s a whole different speed out there and the JPS All-Star trip is a good example of how out there is different from here.”
Sending out thanks, Pavihi offered first and foremost thanks to “my Heavenly Father,” to his parents Lago and Carol “for all the tough love they have shown me,” to his brothers Travis and Gledus, “because when we were just little kids we would always play football at Lions Park.”
He also wants to acknowledge Travis “as my life time coach. I say this because he would always make me do extra drills after or before practice. Even though I hated doing it at the time, I guess it all paid off in the end.”
He concluded, “I would like to thank the Viena and Mauga family for their endless support”; and coaches Loso Iaulualo, Tutuila Manase, Kolose Ili, Ben Waterhouse, Nathan Magalei, Oakland Salavea, and Filo Langkilde. Pavihi added, “I want to give a special thank you to coach Kevin Magalei. Coach Kev has been an inspiration for me on and off the football field. He helps me with my injures and he is one of the main reasons why I am the athlete I am today.”