(Here’s more about the Faga‘itua Vikings, who will play No. 2 Saint Louis tonight at Aloha Stadium. They have been on Oahu since Aug. 1. The weekend prep football preview is in this morning’s Star-Advertiser. Subscriber content.)
The Faga‘itua Vikings’ voyage began with hard work and sweat back home.
“We thank all our families and our community back home,” Coach Suaese “Pooch” Ta‘ase said. “We had to raise $125,000 to get here. We did every kind of fundraising there is. Picking up rubbish, cleaning yards just to raise funds. Our players get the concept that nothing is free.”
Ta‘ase, who is a vice-principal at Faga‘itua, noted the fundraising help of Samoana Congregational Christian Church on Oahu. The team has visited with relatives and friends, including the Viking Alumni Association and UH assistant coach Keith Uperesa.
“The aloha of the Samoan community has kept us well fed. We were able to give our students a small amount of money to do some shopping for their families back home. It’s a fun trip. I thank my coaching staff. I can’t do this myself. I had the vision, but our guys have done a great job and we’ve gotten help from the community,” he said.
Faga‘itua High School has an enrollment of 536, making it the smallest on the island.
“Geographically, we’re on the North Shore like a Kahuku deal. We’re far out transportation-wise. Whatever we get, that’s fine. We’re going to be strict. We’re going to be disciplined,” Ta‘ase said. “We’ll get after it.”
The game will be broadcast back to American Samoa, he added.
“I believe our players will be playing not only for our school, but our whole island,” he said.
Work ethic has been a constant, but the generosity of others has amazed Ta‘ase. Former Saint Louis and Oregon QB Marcus Mariota and his parents made a pledge to donate $10,000 to the Faga‘itua athletic program. Mariota’s father, Toa, is an alumnus.
“The day they approached us (after the scrimmage with Campbell), they were just willing to give back to the father’s high school. He wanted to give back,” Ta‘ase said. “I wanted to acknowledge him in front of our team, but he said, ‘No, no, I just want to help.’ Now I understand where Marcus gets his humbleness.”
The Vikings’ trip continues to be educational — and heart-wrenching.
“We walk to Ala Moana Park to practice and it hits them when they see a lot of homeless people. That’s reality right there,” Ta‘ase said. “We tell them, ‘Get your education so you don’t have to get into that situation. Make great decisions.’ They have leftover food, they give it to the homeless people. Some of our Samoan people are homeless. You won’t see this back home.”
“It’s been eye-opening. That’s one great lesson our players have learned aside from football.”
Ta‘ase grew up in American Samoa, played at Snow Junior College in Utah and matriculated to Louisiana Tech. He got his degree and returned to Faga‘itua in 2000. One of his missions is to get his student-athletes qualified academically for college. Some of his players who are college prospects have already met their SAT requirements. Ta‘ase’s decision to return home 15 years ago — he helped take care of his ill father — has become a legacy when he could’ve easily stayed away.
“I feel like I can be a bigger influence to our community and our players. It’s not about myself. I’m here for life,” he said. “I know there’s challenges out there, but football is a life lesson to become better people in the community and better people in life.”