About five years ago, Tyrone Taleny never thought of playing college football until his cousin Bernard Afutiti came from the mainland. And why so? Taleni did not know football. He did not play or spend time watching sports. Of course, football may be part of the cultural fabric of nearby American Samoa, but rugby was still king on the island of Savai’i, the westernmost island of independent Samoa.
As for rugby, Taleni was natural. In his small mountain village of Vaiola, they spent most of the day playing after school and doing housework, flying over the unspoiled paradise, and pounding. Over the years, his family carved their own slices out of the island oasis, lived outside the land, and raised chickens, cattle, and pigs in a family garden where cocoa, taro, bananas, and mangoes grew abundantly.
His connection to the village was deep, but after spending two years on a mission in Arkansas, Taleni returned to Vaiola indefinitely from his next steps in 2017. At that time, Afutiti and his wife Crystal came to visit the island.
Afutiti, a former college football player, was the first to come up with the idea, and he planted a seed that would make it difficult for Taleni to leave in an unknown sport. Afutiti thought his cousin’s rugby talent could translate. Never in his wildest dreams did he believe that the conversation would take Tale to USC years later.
He knew that Taleni had plans to become a doctor in order to gain better medical access to Samoa. However, implementing this plan meant leaving the island to pursue higher education in the United States, and college was expensive. “He didn’t want to put too much pressure on his parents,” says Afutiti.
So Afutiti offered football: “I told him it was probably the best way to get a free education.”
Taleni told his uncles that he would pray for it.
A few weeks later, Taleni boarded a flight to California. He has not returned to Samoa since.
“I was in everything,” Taleni said. At the time, I didn’t know much about football or how the education system worked here, or anything like that, but his idea was, “Come here and try school, try football, you never know what might happen.” happens, ‘I was very excited. … I think you can say that there is a great leap of faith by leaving everything and not knowing what can happen.
Fate will face Lincoln Riley in his office last January, as well as a major leap of faith from the USC coach. Fate was not a fully proven commodity. He played less than 100 Power Five soccer games in Kansas for two years, where Riley first saw him when he was an Oklahoma state coach. Something in his film gave Riley confidence.
“It made a lot of sense when I started researching him, the employee, his journey in football. We saw some things in the snaps he played that we thought were interesting, “Riley said.” But as we learned more about him, we became convinced of the kind of kid we brought here. “
Sitting in Riley’s office with his coach and cousin, his cousin Tutasi Asuega-Matavao could barely contain himself. He asked the coach if he could take a selfie to remember the incident, which upset Talen.
Their whole family grew up as enthusiastic USC fans. Was Taleni a Trojan now? Seriously?
Asuega-Matavao said, “It still confuses our minds.” “I wonder how this kid does it?”
This impossible story, Mt. It starts at San Antonio College, a community college 25 miles east of downtown Walnut, where one day Taleni appeared, approached the coach, and asked for a shot. He wondered why not.
Bob Jastrab forced. The team needed corpses, and during the nearly twenty years he worked as a coach, he had seen several long fights develop like Taleni.
The San Antonio Mountain coach said: “It’s at their own expense,“ So we give everyone a chance. Sometimes a boy asks, ‘Where have you been all my life?’ ”
But this was not Taleni – at least not in the beginning. His athleticism was obvious, but he struggled at first to be comfortable in shape. He didn’t like shoulder pads, creases, mouth protectors. The helmet felt awkward. He tore his leg as much as possible.
It took time to adapt. Everything was different at home. Everything was fresh on the football field. As he learned the finer points of playing on the defensive line, Mt. He wore a gray shirt to his first season at SAC, a position he took only because the coaches put him there. Although Jastrab almost changed his position after watching Taleny’s pound in training.
“It simply came to our notice then. Like the Holy Cow, does Power Five hire you a year later?
– Ula Matavao, on his cousin’s meteoric rise
“He could really hit him,” Jasrab said. “It was like, ‘What are you doing?’ You can play as a punter on Sundays. ‘ But it did not last long. “
Taleni will soon be stationed along the defensive front. Mt. At the end of his first full season at SAC, his potential quickly became apparent. Suggestions came from schools such as Western Illinois, Robert Morris and Texas El Paso. Then came an offer from Kansas.
“When I called my cousin, I asked him what he thought of Kansas.” He remembered his fate. “I had no idea.”
“We were amazed,” said his cousin Ula Matavao. “Like the Holy Cow, does Power Five hire you a year later?”
Taleni did it in February. A few months later, he moved 1,500 miles east to Kahn, Manhattan.
This time the distances would fall on him. The pandemic made the transition even more difficult. “It was a really long year,” he recalls.
The bitter cold of the Kansas winter was another fix that got worse when the bike he bought to ride around campus was stolen.
“Again,” Asuega-Matavao said, “he never complained.”
He brought the same attitude to football and the work began to bear fruit. He appeared in three games in the 2020 season and then in seven games in 2021. Progress was being made, but the distance was still heavy when I returned to California after that season. The visit of her sister, whom she had not seen for several years, strengthened these feelings.
Taleni signed a contract with COVID-19 before planning to fly to Texas for the Kansas box office game, and it felt like a sign. He chose to access the NCAA transfer portal, focusing on a location closer to California.
But there was no guarantee on the portal. His experience was minimal, production was limited. He scored a total of five shots and two sacks in two seasons. The portal was full of similar unproven prospects looking for a new home.
“I knew there was a chance I wouldn’t get elected,” Taleni said.
“It was another great leap of faith,” Afutiti said.
But his faith would still be rewarded.
The call came almost immediately.
Many did not understand Taleni’s journey as the new USC defensive line coach Shaun Nua. He left American Samoa to live with his family in Arizona, where his college career began in a small college. He became an all-conference player at Brigham Young and a Super Bowl winner with the Pittsburgh Steelers, and in later years became an integral part of the Nua Samoa football community as an assistant college coach. Until Taleni’s family knew exactly who he was.
According to her family, Nua and the rest of the USC staff will go further to make Talen feel at home. While visiting campus, USC prepared a smorgasbord of familiar dishes – teriyaki beef and rice piles with chicken, hearty beef next to a creamy pasta salad.
Coach Riley recalled Taleni’s performance as a backup defender in the game against Oklahoma two years ago.
“Let’s be on the same side now,” Riley told him.
Tale’s family warned him not to wait for the coach. So they called Tale and her parents to talk to Nua via Facebook Messenger. While talking to Nua Taleni’s parents in their mother tongue, the chickens from the family farm were screaming in the background.
“It was a very special moment to have someone who knew my mother tongue, where I came from, to talk to my family, a moment that I will always remember for the rest of my life,” Taleni said.
Nua did not know that Taleni planned to commit during the call. For Taleni, it was a perfect chance to finally bring her parents to a new football career.
They hadn’t seen him do the sport he had bought almost four years ago. For the island, pandemic travel restrictions remained in place and made it impossible to travel to and from Samoa at any time in the last two years.
“It’s my dream to bring them here,” Taleni said.
He and his family believe that day will not come soon. And faith certainly served Taleny well.
“This is the day we have all been waiting for,” Asuega-Matavao said. “The borders will be opened and we will have the biggest banquet the USC has ever seen.”