As 2013 draws to a close, take a look back at our original profiles on some of the athletes that made this a memorable year for Austin Peay athletics. Today we look re-visit the interview with Iosua Siliva and Isaiah Tuiasosopo, a pair of Govs football players bringing unique culture to Austin Peay.
Big, tough, strong. Attributes that describe football players. And natives of American Samoa.
‘Accomplished ukulele player’ isn’t always found on that list, but that’s just one of many things that make Austin Peay football players Iosua Siliva and Isaiah Tuiasosopo unique. Siliva played the ukulele a little bit before coming to Austin Peay and began playing more frequently once he arrived in Clarksville. Tuiasosopo picked up the instrument over Christmas during his freshman year from his sister (the accompanying video features a little playing from both; you can decide for yourself who is the better ukuleleist).
Tuiasosopo, a junior from Pago Pago, comes from a famous family. His cousins Manu (UCLA), Marques and Zach (Washington) all played football for Pac-12 schools, with all three going on to find homes on NFL rosters. His uncle Navy also played at Cal Poly before moving on to a successful acting career. Another in a long line of football players with the surname Tuiasosopo, Isaiah made the move from defensive line to offensive line between his freshman and sophomore seasons and has appeared in 10 games along the line since his transition, making four starts.
Siliva has made a name for himself along the defensive line. The senior from Vailoa was a preseason All-OVC choice in Phil Steele Magazine’s College Football preview and was named to the Senior Bowl Watch List in August. He’s made 17 tackles for loss during his time as a Gov, including including six as a freshman and 5.5 during his junior campaign.
Not bad for a couple of guys ‘from the island’, as they like to say. As young men in the Polynesian culture, Tuiasosopo and Siliva were heavily relied on around the house, often doing the bulk of the chores before heading off to school and practice, where their equipment was not always perfect – Isaiah remembers seeing people cut slippers to make knee and thigh pads and biting down on oranges for makeshift mouthpieces.
“Back home was a very different life compared to here,” said Tuiasosopo, a muscular 6-4, 305-pounder. “Teenage boys in Samoa play a very different role in providing for the family. I was a bit amazed when I came here, where teenagers have their own cars and cellphones. I got my first cellphone when I came here.”
“We’d do all the chores for the day, make food for our parents and little brothers and sisters, then go to school, then practice,” Siliva said. “Our equipment was missing some parts; one time I saw a kid show up to practice with no shoes on. Our practice fields were full of rocks; if you fall, you know your hands are going to get cut up. That’s just how it was back home.”
Coaching styles and schemes were a little different in Samoa as well. Coaches are tough in America and on the island, but the differences…well, there are differences.
“We had to get used to the different coaching styles here,” Tuiasosopo said. “There’s just more to learn here. In Samoa, the coaches just say, ‘I want you to run to that man over there and put your helmet in his chest.’”
“I remember hearing a linebackers coach on the island telling his guys to just find the ball and hit the guy carrying it,” Siliva said. “Instead of running laps, you might get a smack on the head if you’re late to practice, but that’s just the way it is. I really love playing here though; Coach (Pat) Donohoe brings a lot of passion and enthusiasm for the game.”
Neither knew what to expect in the United States; aside from cultural and football differences, both were unsure what the weather might be like. Their concerns were a little different.
“Before I came here my dad said, ‘Just take your shorts and t-shirts, you’ll be fine,’” Tuiasosopo said. “So when it became winter, I was exposed to the cold a little bit.”
“I didn’t know what to expect,” Siliva said. “I thought Tennessee would be kind of cooler weather. When I was in Utah before I came here, my sister-in-law looked up the temperature and it was like 100 degrees. You can always feel the heat, even in the shade.”
In the US, the duo is a long way from home. But with the opportunities presented academically and in football, it was an opportunity to good to pass up.
“This is a very different life,” Tuiasosopo said. “I’m very thankful for the opportunity they gave me, to come and play football and get a free education.”
Siliva had even more concerns; a hang-up with his test scores made his acceptance into school a dicey proposition at the beginning, which was silly in retrospect considering his near-flawless work in the classroom since arriving at Austin Peay. He carries a 3.94 grade-point average as an agriculture-sustainable development major and is a three-time OVC Commissioner’s Honor Roll member.
Now Siliva, a 6-5, 253-pound specimen, will leave Austin Peay not only with a degree, but potentially a career. NFL scouts have Siliva on their radar and he could follow a long line of talented Samoan defensive linemen – like the Eagles’ Isaac Sopoaga, the Bengals’ Domata Peko and Daniel Te’o-Nesheim of the Buccaneers – into an NFL career.
“I didn’t think I was that good,” Siliva said. “I just thought I was big. It just motivates me to work harder.”
Tuiasosopo may not have a pro career to play for, at least not yet, but that famous last name means even more to him than most. His father, Junior Faausu, became seriously ill more than a year ago and, while his health is much improved, remains never far from Isaiah’s thoughts.
“I carry my dad’s name; he’s the reason why I left home,” said Tuiasosopo, his voice cracking while holding back tears. “I never really thought about it because he’s not that stable, health-wise. But that last name is something I have to live up to. It’s well-known and I don’t want to let that down. I came here to represent my family and Samoa.”