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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, September 27, 2001

Samuseva justifiably proud of roots

By Stephen Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer

He first heard the two-word phrase when he was an 8-year-old water boy for the Farrington High football team.

As a Farrington senior, he and his teammates would chant the words before every practice and game.

But only now, University of Hawai'i defensive tackle Lance Samuseva said, "I really understand what 'Kalihi pride' means."

He recalled his hard-scrabble childhood in the Kam IV housing project, and the twisted thoughts of "people who think that if you're from Kalihi, you must be a troublemaker."

Worse, he said, were the skeptics who "never thought I was going to do anything in life."

"Look at me now," said Samuseva, a redshirt sophomore who will earn his first collegiate start Saturday against Rice and is on track to earn a bachelor's degree in two years.

To view Samuseva, with some imagination, is to see another former resident of a publicly subsidized housing project in Kalihi who has a passion for football and a handshake that could turn coal into diamonds.

"I'm a lot like Lance," said Skippa Diaz, the City's deputy director for Parks and Recreation, "although he's a better athlete than I was."

Diaz was raised in the Mayor Wright housing project and also attended Farrington.

"There was a perception that Kalihi was on the other side of the tracks," Diaz said. "It gets a bad rap. You have good guys and bad guys everywhere. In Kalihi , we have a lot of good guys."

After college, Diaz pursued a teaching career. He chose to return to his alma mater. "The best place for me to teach was Farrington," he said. "The kids there are very sincere people. They live in an area that is economically deprived, but they have a lot of pride. You have to build it somewhere, and I wanted to make those kids part of the movement."

As the school's football coach, Diaz noticed a boy hanging around standout player Ben Samuseva. "He was a big chunk of a kid," Diaz said, "a big bumbucha."

Diaz allowed Lance Samuseva to serve as the water boy. "He was a pretty good kid," Diaz said.

Through the years, he watched Samuseva mature into a highly regarded football player and a dutiful student.

"The thing I liked about him was that he was always with his family," Diaz said. "Studying hard and having family support helps a person become a better adult."

As a Farrington senior in 1999, Samuseva was prepared to move to the Mainland. In Fred vonAppen's three years as head coach, UH did not offer a football scholarship to any Farrington players.

"It was sad," Samuseva said. "There were a lot of good players on the team. They could have made a difference."

But then UH coach June Jones, who succeeded vonAppen in December 1998, called Diaz, asking about two linemen — Samuseva and Vince Manuwai.

"I always thought Farrington had a lot of good players," Jones said. "Skippa did a great job of coaching them."

Jones visited Diaz, becoming the first UH coach to step onto the Farrington campus in three years, and they exchanged handshakes.

"He about broke my hand," Jones recalled. "He has a strong grip."

After that meeting, and then after Jones hired five coaches from Hawai'i high schools, Diaz recalled, "I convinced Vincent and Lance to stay home. I knew there were a bunch of coaches up there (at UH) who would help them get through school."

Said Samuseva: "I was surprised when (the Warriors) recruited me. I wasn't really strong on them, but then Coach Jones made me a believer."

Manuwai has developed into the Warriors' best offensive lineman and Samuseva has become an effective defensive tackle.

"That shows that if you push yourself, you can make it, no matter where you're from," Diaz said. "I wish more people would let the two eyeballs and two ears do their business before they open their mouth."