Samoa playing catchup to build a football foundation

For years, Agatupu Lefao had a dream of launching a high school football program on the island of Samoa in the Pacific Ocean.

Samoa, located almost 5,000 miles southwest from San Francisco, is the larger of the Samoas with its smaller but more famous football cousin, American Samoa, 135 miles away to the southeast.

American Samoa is a regular producer of NFL players. In fact, There are roughly 30 players from American Samoa in the NFL and more than 200 play Division I NCAA Football. From a population of about 55,000.

‘The vision that Coach Tupu had was to bring an American Gridiron program to Samoa to provide an educational pathway for the youth there. After many years of trying, he finally involved Callum Jones and his dream began taking shape.

Jones:

“We wanted to use football scholarships as a way to motivate team members to improve their studies and create student-athletes.”

In July of 2017, they started a camp in cooperation with Tafuna High School on American Samoa which culminated in the first ever game of high school football played in Samoa. That was followed by a trip to Pago Pago on American Samoa for a game against a Tafuna all star team in December 2017. Although they lost the game, they stunned Tafuna by scoring four touchdowns.

Photo: Samoa Observer

In early 2018, the pair started up a school flag football program involving both boys and girls and this led to a full tackle game for U14s against the Matais, an all-star team from the AYFS program in American Samoa.

The progress almost came to a complete halt however in July of 2018 when Coach Tupu suddenly passed away.

“He was an amazing mentor for the boys with a wealth of coaching experience to share with the team. We had been planning to expand our high school program but this had to be put on hold as the whole program is volunteer and with the passing of Coach Tupu, we just needed to come to a decision if the program was sustainable.”

Jones and his group decided to forge ahead.

In October, 2018, they played the unbeaten Tafuna Warriors Junior Varsity team from Pago Pago and barely lost, 6-0.

Progress has definitely been made.

Jones is now more than hopeful:

“This year will be a breakout year for football in Samoa. The varsity team has been in off season training since the first week of the new year and this week moves into preseason preparing for the Talofa Bowl in April where we will host Tongan Gridiron, an All Star selection from American Samoa and hopefully a team from New Zealand.”

Jones is quick to point out how important the support has been from Tafuna:

“Their support to our program has helped lift up our players. We have talented players, but without game time against talented teams we wouldn’t grow and Coach Kevin, Coach Loso and Coach Kolose have been unwavering in their support of helping the game in Samoa. “

According to Jones, the school program will be expanding into more primary schools. In June, plans are set for a group to tour four American college camps to give the players an opportunity to showcase their skills and hopefully pick up a scholarship.

“We need to sustain and build the numbers coming up. If we can get a scholarship or two in June that would be a huge boost for the program.”

The next step is to gain acceptance into the American Samoa high school football league starting this September in order to play regular game against high quality opponents.

Whew.

That is the very definition of rapid progress and development.

Related: Return Gridiron game in American Samoa by Ioana Tupa’i

Roger Kelly
Roger Kelly is an editor and a writer for AFI. A former PR Director the B.C. Lions of the Canadian Football League for 7 years, he now lives in Sweden writing about and scouting American Football throughout the world.
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