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Monday, November 19, 2001
Updated: November 20, 1:03 PM ET
Buy a vowel?

By by Bruce Feldman
ESPN The Magazine

For the past few decades we've gotten used to seeing big, athletic men with huge vowel-packed names in the WAC and Pac-10, but these days Samoan football players are truly everywhere. Pittsburgh's got one, Arkansas State's got one and Nebraska has five of them, including starting guards Toniu Fonoti and Dan Vili Waldrop. (If you're a college-football video game junkie, you might think NU's big No. 68 is actually a white dude, but after seeing himself digitized as a Caucasian, Big Dan added his father's name, Vili, just to let everyone know he's an us. That's Samoan for brother.)

The talent base is so thick these days, you could select a Samoan All-America team, and since there was no movie on my flight back from California, I did. But as impressive as this group of current players is, scouts say the next wave could be just as eye-catching. Among the top 30 line prospects on the West Coast, six are Samoans, including big-timer Fred Matua. The 6'4", 285-pound defensive lineman from Wilmington, Calif.'s Banning High -- the same school that produced Vili Waldrop -- Matua missed much of his senior season to a broken fibula, but still has virtually every major school drooling over him. His prep coaches say he has as much potential as former Banning star (and current NFL standout) Bob Whitfield. "The guy is a lion," says one recruiter of Matua. "He has great feet and is a real warrior. If he's 100% healthy, he'll give you as much as any D-lineman in the country."

Alex Potasi from Harbor City, Calif. is considered the top O-line prospect. He is 6'6", 330, and is so agile, he also is a standout volleyball player. Potasi is just one of a huge crop of promising blockers that college coaches are vying for: Massive Taitusi Lutui is a 6'4", 345-pounder from Mesa, Ariz., while 6'5", 325-pound Albert Toeania of Pittsburg, Calif., could also come in and play right away.

One other name to keep an eye on is LB Isiah Tolaumu, a 5'11", 225-pound tackling machine from Phoenix. Tolaumu is a hard-hitting, fearless player who also could get action as a fullback. His toughness should come as no surprise; after all, he is Junior Seau's cousin.

The JC ranks are equally loaded with talent. Former Washington signee Chris Salamona, a 6'4", 260-pound DE, who will likely end up at U-Dub, had a tremendous season at El Camino CC and is a prospect some say might be the best in the rich California junior college system. OT Peni Holakeituai, a 6'5", 310-pounder is the top prospect at Ricks (Idaho) College, followed closely by another Samoan, DT Carl Tuitavuki, who tips scales at 6'4", 325. Snow College's Scott Tuitupoa, a 6'3", 240-pound linebacker with legit 4.65 speed, is also getting heavy looks all over the country. Don't be surprised if all four start wherever they end up next fall. Tuitupoa might even end up at Oklahoma, where he could run into Fonoti and Vili Waldrop in the middle of the Big 12 title chase. Not bad for a few guys who come from an island nation of just 77 square miles.

Bruce Feldman covers college football for ESPN The Magazine. E-mail him at bruce.feldman@espnmag.com.