By Stephanie Graves
(Via Fox Sports West)
American Samoa is a small unincorporated territory of the United States. Apart of the Samoan Island chains, which include Cook Islands and Tonga, it lies in the middle of the South Pacific. It is not well-off. It is not very significant. It’s the kind of place that finds its riches in things like culture and values.
The national motto – “Samoa, Muamau Le Atua” – translates to mean “Samoa, Let God Be First.” The island, which at 76.1 square miles is only slightly bigger than Washington, D.C. is 98 percent Christian. Offensive lineman Khaled Holmes is from southern Califonia. After attending Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, Calif., he chose to attend USC which is only a freeway’s drive away. Los Angeles is 468.87 square miles and often known as the entertainment capitol of the world.
And it’s a world away from American Samoa.
But that is the world Khaled Holmes found himself June 29 when he arrived with his brother-in-law, Pittsburgh Steelers’ Troy Polamalu to assist with Polamalu’s annual football camp. Polamalu’s staff included a laundry list professional athletes he knew from either his biological or Trojan family including Khaled’s brother, former USC tight end Alex, the Cincinnati Bengals’ Rey Maualuga, USC offensive coordinator and American Samoan native Kennedy Polamalu – Troy’s uncle – and Arizona Cardinals and Tonga native Deuce Lutui.
These native Pacific Islanders and their relatives are part of what is becoming a new legacy of the island. As it stands today, around 30 ethnic Samoans currently play in the NFL and more than 200 are playing at an NCAA Division I program.
“It fits in with their whole personality. They are a very tough people. They are a very hardworking people,” said Holmes.
Holmes is not Samoan, Tongan or any variety of Pacific Islander. He’s half black and half greek. He was also the only collegiate player on staff. But instead of being relegated to assisting the professionals that knew the culture he was offered the chance to coach the offensive lineman.
“They love to hit. They have great passion, but they need to be taught proper safety and proper technique.”
It’s an island. That doesn’t exactly provide them the Land of Opportunity. Though this was, by definition, a traditional football camp, there needed to be an extra emphasis on the basics. And how did Coach Holmes feel being on the other side of the ball?
“I loved it. It was just a breath of fresh air. Everything you heard was “Yes Coach! Yes Coach!” It was pretty awesome.”
Ironically, teaching is quite often a two way street.
“These kinds really left a lasting impression with the respect that they had for all of us, their ability to listen and just how hard they worked and just the adversity they are facing just in terms of their lifestyle. They have limited options with what they can do and it doesn’t really affect their morale.”
Morale is a word tossed around a bit with any team, but more so around Holmes’ Trojans lately. They have faced their own set of adversity consisting of sanctions and failed appeals. But does that really compare to the day-to-day struggles of living life on an island with limited resources in not just football, but life?
Football is a privilege and then some. The mission of Holmes and the rest of the staff was more than showing a few enthusiastic kids how to hit someone properly. They showed them football can be a resource all on its own; a resource for an education and a better life.
Remember, the more than 200 ethic Samoans at a Division I program? That means there are more 200 young men earning a college education that they could not have afforded without the game of football.
Not even Holmes, born and raised in a southern California with every resource available to him, knows for sure if he will be able to play professionally. But he has already earned his B.A. in communication and is now working on his masters in communication management.
And who knows? He might make a great coach one day.