Oct. 21, 2005
by Jonathan Price
It's no secret that Pago Pago, American Samoa, and Seattle, Washington, are a little different. Most notable, though, are not the physical differences -- beaches made of real sand, winter temperatures in the 80s -- but the pace of life.
"Everything at home is slow," says senior defensive tackle Mike Mapuolesega, a Pago Pago native. "Coming over here for school is way different because everything is moving much faster. I got used to it, though."
Although Seattle runs at a faster pace than Samoa, that hasn't changed Mapuolesega's ability to pursue his interests -- namely, football. Mapuolesega played rugby as a child, but was forced to find an alternative when the high school he attended did not sponsor a rugby team. At 6-foot-3 and 270 pounds, and with a reputation as an outstanding tackler, he was a natural fit for the football team.
Football was not a big sport at Faga'itua High School, and Mapuolesega says he played as much to keep out of trouble as for any other reason.
"We only had around 30 or so guys on the team, so the fun part was that most of the players would play both ways," he says. "As long as you were athletic, you could play whatever position you wanted. We had fun, and even ended up winning a championship while I was there."
While playing both ways in high school is no unusual feat, rarely does one perform the quarterback-defensive end double, the positions at which Mapuolesega starred as a prep. On defense his goal was to hit the quarterback, while on offense his job was to avoid being hit.
"I was pretty good at throwing the ball," he says. "Defense was definitely my strong point, though, because I put up much better numbers sacking the quarterback than I did as a quarterback myself."
Football opened doors for Mapuolesega that hadn't been opened for other members of his family.
"By brother and sister went to college but they didn't finish," he says. "I wanted to make sure that I was going to get an education and finish school to earn a degree."
Originally deciding to attend the University of Eastern Arizona, Mapuolesega knew right away that the school and the area were not for him, and instead chose to join a cousin at Mesa (Ariz.) Community College.
After he recorded 16 sacks in his first season at Mesa, many Pac-10 schools showed interest in Mapuolesega. When it came time to make a decision, though, Mapuolesega stayed true to his goals, choosing the school which provided him with a challenge both academically and athletically.
"I decided to come to Washington because I wanted to finish my school at a good university," he says. "It is a good feeling to get a degree at a school like this."
Since making his decision, Mapuolesega has packed five years of Division-I experience in a three-year span. The senior earned Scout of the Week honors for his efforts as a redshirt player in 2003, was a six-game starter in 2004 before suffering a knee injury that forced him out of four games, and has made a number of key plays at nose tackle this fall. With just a handful of games remaining in his collegiate career, Mapuolesega is determined to help lead a young team, and make his final season one to remember.
"I am not much of a talker, but I try to lead by example," he says. "My leadership is all about how I present myself with my actions. If I want somebody to do something, I need to do it first so that they know what I want for them to do. We need to remain focused, forget about last year, and just get the job done."
The pace of life in Samoa may be slow, but Mike Mapuolesega is on the fast track to success.