It’s been a long and eventful trip for the Fagaitua High School football team from American Samoa.
The Vikings arrived in Hawaii on Aug. 13 and won’t be heading home until Sunday, one day after they get the treat of watching the University of Hawaii football team play its season opener at Aloha Stadium against Arizona.
That UH game comes after Friday night’s main event for Fagaitua — a game against Kamehameha at the Warriors’ Kunuiakea Stadium.
The Vikings have practiced at Mililani with coach Rod York‘s Trojans twice and at Waianae with coach Mike Fanoga‘s Seariders once. They’ve also held some practices at Ala Moana Beach Park.
In addition, Fagaitua practiced at Kamehameha with coach Abu Maafala‘s Warriors on Wednesday and also held their walkthrough at the Kapalama campus field Thursday. That session was to be followed by dinner with the Kamehameha team.
“They’ve been really great hosts,” Vikings coach Pooch Taase said about all the schools who have contributed to their trip. “And they’ve really helped us. We want to thank them.”
Lots of friendships have been built between the Fagaitua and Mililani players. That all started when Mililani took a one-week trip to scrimmage the Vikings and another Samoan team in late July.
“For the kids to see how the game is played here is great,” said Taase right before Thursday’s walkthrough. “And the parents, too. They got to see how active the parents are here stateside and they’re taking that back with them.
“The fields have been great. This is like heaven football for us.”
The Trojans’ York, on returning from his team’s Samoa trip, pointed out the adverse field conditions over there: “Their practice field had gravel, cement strips, some broken glass, sand, and many small frogs. Fagaitua has to travel five miles every day to practice at their field.”
According to Taase, he and his boys are struck by the speed of the game played here, especially the hurry-up offensive mentality.
That could be due to Fagaitua’s penchant for power running, which tends to slow down a game.
Originally, the Vikings were penciled in for the Aloha Football Classic that takes place in Hawaii next week when Mililani hosts Liberty, and Saint Louis meets Bishop Gorman at Aloha Stadium. Fagaitua was possibly going to play Kahuku, but those plans didn’t pan out and the team came a bit earlier instead.
Taase said the trip for 33 players cost close to $100,000. They’re staying at the Aloha Surf in Waikiki.
“The players fund-raised their butts off and it was a good learning experience,” the coach said. “They put in work cutting grass (etc.) and earned it instead of having it given to them. They got to go to Dave and Buster’s today. They deserve to have some fun.
“The parents had to come up with at least $500. It was about $30,000 for hotel accommodations.”
Luckily, according to Taase, the team hasn’t had to spend much on food, due to the generosity of the schools they’ve been visiting and some Fagaitua alumni living here in Hawaii.
“We’ve spent more money on gas than food,” he said.
Two Fagaitua alumni are playing for the University of Hawaii, safety Steven Fiso and defensive lineman Blessman Taala. Both of them greeted the team and spoke to the players about their college experiences.
“We have a couple of players on this team with potential to earn scholarships, the coach said.
One of those players is Maurice Taala, who is a center and a nose guard. Another is defensive tackle Mika Tavai.
“We’re here to represent the whole island,” Taase said. “They’re (the Kamehameha Warriors) in the Open Division. Our enrollment is barely breaking 500 and we’re coed. But we’re going to compete.”
Maurice Taala thinks Fagaitua has a shot at victory.
“We’ve got a big chance,” he said. “Our team is prepared for this game. We put a lot of effort and sweat into preparing. It’s not only us here, but we’re representing all of Samoa. It’s a big honor to represent our tiny island of American Samoa in Hawaii.”
The Kamehameha vs. Fagaitua connection happened due to Taase’s friendship with Radford coach Fred Salanoa, who was an assistant at Kamehameha under Maafala recently before taking over as Radford head coach. Taase played with Salanoa at Snow College and Salanoa introduced Taase to Maafala.
While Salanoa, a quarterback, went on to stardom at Eastern Washington, Taase went on to play linebacker at Louisiana Tech.
“At LaTech, they thought I was from Somalia,” Taase said. “I had to say, ‘No, more like Hawaii and hula, hula.’ That was how they got to know it.”
According to Taase, Mililani will be coming to Friday’s game to cheer the Vikings on.
“Just like their game with Kahuku,” he said. “We went. Rod just messaged me that they’re coming.”
Vikings right guard Dyson Moana is hoping his team can bring home a win.
“We’re learning to work together as a team and we’re also just having fun,” he said. “We learned a lot from the other coaches, like it’s all about technique no matter how big or small you are. As long as you have good technique, you can be a great player.”
Maurice Taala and offensive line coach Bone Taase agreed that more emphasis is placed on technique here in Hawaii.
“Technique-wise, they’re way superior to our island,” Taala said. “They taught us, when blocking, to keep our forearms up and to keep the arms tight together and to the body. We were used to pushing out with our hands and that’s how you get called for holding.”
Added Bone Taase, “It’s been a blessing for us on the coaching staff to get off the island and to network and make new friends. The speed of the players and the technique taught by the coaches is a big game-changer for us.
“Coach York drills into his players an attitude of how important it is for everyone on the field to be responsible for their jobs. Everybody has a job to do and that is vital. There can be a play on the left side and the receiver on the right is not running it full speed. Then the cornerback can sense (that he’s not part of the play) and can run all the way over to the other side and make the tackle. He makes the tackle because the receiver didn’t do his job.
“At the Mililani vs. Kahuku game, we saw them doing what the coaches ask. They were going all out on every play.”
In 2015, Fagaitua lost 55-6 to Saint Louis and quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, now an Alabama star, at Aloha Stadium. It was the Vikings’ first trip to Hawaii. Since 1994, Samoa teams have visited Oahu for games eight times and are 2-6.