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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted at 3:22 p.m., Monday, May 14, 2007

Samoan rookies bring new look to the Dolphins

By Carl Kotala
Florida Today

DAVIE, Fla. -- The Miami Dolphins didn't go into the NFL Draft with the idea of bringing in a strong group of players of Samoan heritage.

It just worked out that way.

But former University of Hawaii fullback Reagan Mauia believes Miami could be on to something.

"It's awesome. You couldn't ask for a better deal," said the Dolphins sixth-round draft pick. "The Dolphins, they did a great job with that one, I'll tell you that. We're going to bring something different this year."

Different would be good for a team that hasn't made the playoffs in five years. And while it may have not been the plan going in, Miami general manager Randy Mueller and new head coach Cam Cameron didn't hesitate when it came to selecting players they hope can help turn things around.

The Dolphins' Samoan connection started in the second round, when the team took Hawaii center/guard Samson Satele. They also picked Utah defensive tackle Paul Soliai in the fourth round, Mauia in the sixth, and later signed Hawaii guard Tala Esera as an undrafted free agent.

"They are all different, their families are different -- but what we have seen in these guys is that spirit, that spirit of enthusiasm, that pride," Cameron said. "They are very prideful people. When they step on the football field, they know they represent someone bigger than themselves and that's important."

More than 200 Samoans play college football and there could be up to 50 or more Polynesians on NFL rosters by the time training camps start. Among that list are impact players such as linebacker Junior Seau, who will likely re-sign with the New England Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu and Seattle Seahawks linebacker Lofa Tatupu -- son of former USC and Patriots great Mosi Tatupu.

"We represent the whole Samoan culture," Satele said. "Now, we've got to represent the whole state of Hawaii. I'm proud to be from Hawaii. I'll represent it as (best) as I can."

The four rookies are certainly a colorful lot.

Satele, a 6-foot-3, 300-pound center/guard has not gotten a haircut since he enrolled at the University of Hawaii in 2002. There have been times when opponents have tried to use his long locks to their advantage. But given the big man's size and natural strength, that might not be such a good idea.

"I got pulled on a couple of times last year and I got (ticked) off," Satele said. "They call me Samson, but I'm like the Hulk. They pull my hair, I get angry."

Esera, who is the leader of the group, used to have long hair, too. But just because he cut it doesn't mean he has gone conservative.

While working out with Mauia in Arizona before the draft, the duo noticed their trainer was taking down a dry wall to expand his facility.

"They were going to bust it down, so I was like, 'OK, may as well try to bust my head through this wall, see if I can do it,' " Esera said.

The 6-3, 310-pound guard managed to put his head through the wall without incident. But it wasn't long before Mauia decided to do his friend one better.

After all, why stop at putting your head through a wall when you can just crash right through it?

"I didn't have to upstage him," Mauia said. "We were trying to break the wall down. We were throwing baseballs through it, medicine balls through it ... Tala put his head through it. I was like, 'I've got to do more than that.' "

Video of Mauia literally running through the wall can be seen on YouTube and is further proof of the nickname his Hawaii teammates gave him -- "Juggernaut."

Mauia, a former nose tackle who once weighed 380 pounds, is now a 6-foot, 270-pound fullback who has a chance to back up starter Cory Schlesinger. The Dolphins love the way he blocks and also that he can be an effective pass catcher out of the backfield.

Satele and Esera are both pushing for playing time on an offensive line that is still undergoing a restructuring. Soliai (6-4, 344) also is seen as a possible backup to veteran nose tackle Keith Traylor.

Miami has another player of Polynesian descent, defensive tackle Steve Fifta, who is playing in NFL Europa. Once he returns, he will no doubt form a bond with the other four, who have already grown close.

"Hopefully, (our teammates) get a feel for how close we are," Esera said. "Polynesians, we're very family oriented. Hopefully, guys can see that and it will rub off a little bit."