Nov. 4, 2005
by Mike Bruscas
Tusi Sa'au knows quite a bit about holding up under pressure.
In addition to the ferocious defensive linemen that attempt to overpower Sa'au each Saturday afternoon, the Husky senior has recently been wrestling with the weight of lost loved ones. A native of American Samoa, Sa'au returned to the small Pacific island in December 2003 to attend his grandfather's funeral. Less than 18 months later, he was attending another funeral; this time for his father, Logologo.
The two deaths weighed heavily on the Husky lineman.
"It was real tough," he says. "I pretty much just wanted to stay home. It was real tiring; it took a lot out of me."
Seventeen years ago, it had been Logologo who led his family from American Samoa to Seattle after accepting a ministerial position at a local church. As is often the case, the family's move was made with the future of the younger generation in mind -- the U.S. could provide Tusi with a better education, while opening more doors for his future. Sa'au was too young to remember much of the transition, but the differences in culture are something he has come to appreciate.
"Life there is a lot different than life here," he says. "It's all agriculture and farming; there are no big buildings. There's just one road that goes around the whole island. Life there moves slower; it's relaxing."
According to Sa'au, religion plays a major role in most Polynesians' lives, but as the son of a minister, it was an even bigger factor for Sa'au.
"I haven't missed church once since I came here," he says. "It adds faith and stability, so I always have something I can come back to if I need it. If I'm down and out, looking for something to comfort me, I just say a prayer and keep faith."
Sa'au is part of a long Polynesian tradition at the UW, which includes such greats as Siupele Malamala, Ink Aleaga, and the Tuiasosopo family. In fact, Washington currently boasts six seniors of Polynesian descent, including fellow American Samoa natives Tui Alailefaleula and Mike Mapuolesega, as well as starters Manase Hopoi, Joe Lobendahn, and Mark Palaita.
"We're a real tight group," says Sa'au of the Polynesian community at UW.
When Sa'au was coping with the deaths of his father and grandfather earlier this year, it was his Polynesian teammates -- particularly Alailefaleula, Hopoi and sophomore Wilson Afoa -- who stayed closest to his side, providing emotional support in any way they could.
"A lot of my teammates came, even though I told them not to," Sa'au says. "They still came by, which I really appreciated."
Sa'au came to Washington intending to make his mark on defense, but when offensive line depth became an issue, Sa'au was a candidate to switch sides. It wasn't a very democratic process.
"They didn't really convince me, they just threw me over there at practice one morning," he says. "I came to my locker and saw I had a different jersey, an offensive-colored jersey. I was like `Oh, man!' It was just a shock."
Quickly, however, Sa'au began to gain a new respect for his offensive teammates, whom he used to think "just got in the way.
"You have to learn plays of the whole offense, and then learn how to run that against every single defense that comes in front of you. It is real difficult," he says.
Difficult, too, have been the team's struggles the past two seasons, but Sa'au says he has always felt support from the Washington fans.
"This is a great place to play. We have fans who have been season ticket holders for 50 years, and the commitment they have is great," he says. "To play for someone like that, and to have them in the stands backing you up really means a lot. To know that someone has been coming for 50 years when you're only here for four, that's pretty awesome."
With awesome support in all aspects of his life, Sa'au can finally worry less about the obstacles he must overcome, and focus instead on the obstacle he presents.