Samoa College student aims high in U.S. football

About the author:

Tina Mata'afa-Tufele is a Pasifika journalist that has been writing and covering news related to the Samoan experience for over a decade. She's written for Samoa News in American Samoa, (covering news from Hawaii, the U.S.

  • MOTHER AND SON TEAM AJ Aiafi with his toting mum Tagaloa Sharon Potoi Aiafi
    MOTHER AND SON TEAM AJ Aiafi with his toting mum Tagaloa Sharon Potoi Aiafi

Fifteen-year-old R.J. Aiafi, a Year 12 student at Samoa College, has set his sights on American football stardom.

The youngest child of Member of Parliament (Faleata West) Lealailepule Rimoni Aiafi and Tagaloa Sharon Aiafi told Newsline Samoa he is shooting for the stars.

One of only two players in the country named to the 2020 All-Star Polynesian Bowl to be played in Hawai’i, he’s off to a raring start.

“My goal is to go to Hawai’i, go to school, become a star and to encourage Samoans to be like me and Belford Viali Filifilia (St. Joseph’s College),” RJ said, referring to his Poly Bowl co-mention.

“I’m so happy to have this chance. It will have a big impact on my future. It will help me provide for my family and stuff.”

He wants to push youth to play American football and gain a better understanding of the game.

“I want to push youth to play more football and to understand the game. There are many advantages to playing football— you can also make lots of money to feed your family,” RJ said.

“When you’re a player there are two things— school and sports and at university, they go hand-in-hand. If you don’t do well in academics then you can’t play. If you do poorly, you are dropped from sports.”

National Football League (NFL) legends and Super Bowl Champions Seiuli Manase Jesse Sapolu, Vai Sikahema, Maa Tanuvasa and Reno Mahe were in Samoa to announce the expansion of philanthropy work by the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame to Samoa.

The former NFL players are Polynesian Football Hall of Famers and founders.

They held a clinic for local athletes and selected RJ and Belford for next year’s bowl. The names were announced early this week at a press conference held at the Taumeasina Island Resort.

Next year they will invite youth from American Samoa and Tonga to train in an all-new annual football camp to be held in Samoa.

“It was good. I met them last year and they told us there would be some opportunities this year. We got ready, trained hard and now they are here. We had drills, training in skills and fitness, mostly fitness last weekend and they picked two players – me and Belford,” said RJ who is from Vaitele Uta and Alafua.

He is the youngest of three children.

“It’s an excellent opportunity’s a new sport, well not a new sport, but relatively still an unknown sport. For us, it’s usually just rugby union and rugby league,” Tagaloa told Newsline.

“This is an excellent program – the fact that it goes hand-in-hand with studies so not only are they developing skills in sports but the program also looks at excelling academically. So it’s a two-fold endeavour, it’s a great opportunity because they will be working with the best.”

Lealailepule and Tagaloa will travel to Hawai’i with their son next year for the 2020 Polynesian Bowl.

“The boys will actually be trained and taught by the best. We have Jesse Sapolu and we also have Maa Tanuvasa and these are Super Bowl heroes really so they will be trained by the best. So for them (the student-athletes) it’s a just a matter of skills and going forward with their studies. That is the excellent thing about it,” Tagaloa said.

“We’ve already got it planned. Me and my husband are definitely going to accompany our son to Hawai’i. We have to he’s only 15. I have three kids and he’s the baby. He still a baby and he’s my youngest so it’ still very hard for me to grasp what’s going on now.”