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Badgers football: Gary Andersen wants to recruit Polynesian players

2013-02-09T04:45:00Z Badgers football: Gary Andersen wants to recruit Polynesian playersTOM MULHERN | Wisconsin State Journal | tmulhern@madison.com | 608-252-6169 madison.com

The University of Wisconsin football team did not sign any Polynesian players in its 2013 recruiting class.

But if Badgers coach Gary Andersen has his way, that could be the last class not to have some Polynesian flavor.

Having coached at Utah and Utah State with an abundance of Polynesian players, Andersen would like to continue that pipeline at UW.

"Polynesian kids have been a part of the programs I've been in at Utah and Utah State, ever since I kind of remember playing football," Andersen said prior to signing day on Wednesday.

"It was an important part of our program at Utah State and I think we need to reach out, not just to the (Hawaiian) Islands, but to the Polynesian kids all over the United States — Tonga, Somoa, even into Alaska — and be able to recruit the best of the best in that scenario and give them an opportunity to come in and compete at a high level."

The timing couldn't be better. Super Bowl XLVII last Sunday featured five players with Polynesian heritages.

The Baltimore Ravens had two Tongan defensive linemen in Ha loti Ngata and Ma'ake Kemoeatu. The San Francisco 49ers featured guard Mike Iupati, who is Samoan; backup fullback Will Tukuafu, who is Tongan; and nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga, who is from American Samoa.

The islands that make up Tonga are located about 1,500 miles north of New Zealand, while Samoa is another 550 miles to the northeast.

Ngata, who missed most of the second half of the Super Bowl after suffering a knee injury, is one of the best defensive tackles in the NFL. The success of him and others means the number of Polynesian players will likely continue to grow at every level.

"It's because of the level of football over in the Polynesian Islands and Hawaii," Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome told USA Today prior to the Super Bowl. "They play very good football over there. And someone like Ha loti, who is 6-4, 340, who can move like that? I don't care where he played. He's going to be pretty good."

Until now, those players have mostly wound up in western schools. Utah coach Kyle Whittingham told USA Today he had 45 Polynesian players on his roster, which he said is second-most in the country behind the University of Hawaii.

UW defensive line coach Chad Kauha'aha'a spent the previous two years coaching the same position at Utah.

"I think everybody is expecting me to sign five Polynesian kids this class," Kauha'aha'a said in an interview last month, after being hired. "That's not going to happen. We're kind of late in the game."

The Badgers had some success recruiting Hawaiian players under former coach Barry Alvarez. The most notable was center Donovan Raiola, who started from 2003 to 2005.

During one stretch, Alvarez scheduled games in Hawaii every four years.

Badgers defensive coordinator Dave Aranda coached at Hawaii from 2008 to 2011.

Even with those ties, can the Badgers find success attracting Polynesian players to the Midwest? Andersen is determined to try.

"We'll reach out," Andersen said. "It doesn't happen overnight. We'll sure be excited to bring a couple of those young men on campus and make strides in that area."

While most of the Polynesian players wind up at schools in the West, Kauha'aha'a believes they would be a good fit at UW.

"I think we fit well anywhere," Kauha'aha'a said. "You've got to get one, so you can bring some other ones up here. We've been successful in the West. I think other schools in the country are starting to do that."

Both Aranda and Kauha'aha'a said recruiting Polynesian players requires a firm commitment.

"If we do it, we've got to be committed to it," Kauha'aha'a said. "Because Wisconsin is far away, I'm not going to lie about that. ...

"If Gary's in charge, that's what we're going to do. Do I expect our roster to look like Utah State, the University of Utah, or Brigham Young? No. If we can get a handful of kids, that would be great. We'll see."

The upside to recruiting Polynesian players was evident in the Super Bowl. Those players are known for being big and fast. The five players on the Super Bowl rosters averaged 329.8 pounds.

Yet, both Andersen and Kauha'aha'a said the biggest benefits are the personalities that have made Polynesian players appealing to many programs.

"The one thing about having Polynesian kids in your program — I've been interviewed on this before and I'll stick by it — our kids bring that family atmosphere, that family environment, family always comes first," Kauha'aha'a said.

"It's unbelievable the way they bring that camaraderie, that 'I've-got-your-back' feel to the team. ... They are big, physical guys, they're 300-pounders that can run like linebackers."

No wonder Andersen believes Polynesian players would be a good fit to the program he is building at UW.

"I think they fit Wisconsin football, just like I think they fit the other programs I've been able to be with the last few years," he said. "The toughness, the work ethic, the family, the culture overall revolves around family.

"That's something that's very important to us at the University of Wisconsin. ... Big, good football players helps, too."

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(8) Comments

  1. rafeUW
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    rafeUW - February 12, 2013 2:43 pm
    YEAH and those Polynesian players are going to LOVE the winters here!!
  2. Bigtenwi
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    Bigtenwi - February 10, 2013 9:16 pm
    Lets just support him before judging. I think he is just trying to bring in new personal to add to our success from instate kids. I eat this all the time from busker fans living here in NE lets e enter then them. On Wisconsin.
  3. jimatmadison
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    jimatmadison - February 10, 2013 10:05 am
    Which kids are you talking about?

    I think we've done a pretty good job of keeping the best players here, and reaching out beyond the state borders.
  4. seered
    Report Abuse
    seered - February 09, 2013 4:19 pm
    badgerfan1 loves to sound the alarm, usually false.
    Not to worry GA will lock up the state of wisconsin first and foremost. Then he will recruit Utah, and other 'ploy' areas, perhaps bringing in 2/yr. Then he will recruit the JUCO's bringing in perhaps 2/yr. And then finally he will recruit established areas where we have had success,
    including California.
    SO lets just sit back with a cold brew and see how the next two classes unfold.
  5. Jeff Dubay
    Report Abuse
    Jeff Dubay - February 09, 2013 9:44 am
    He's a new coach, recruiting season just ended, and these guys need something to write about. I wouldn't lose sleep over it guys.
  6. jbredbird
    Report Abuse
    jbredbird - February 09, 2013 8:33 am
    Come on gang........
    In previous articles on UW recruiting, GA has talked about locking up the top players in the state. This article just mentions his experience with another group of players and how GA plans to pursue them. On top of that, what is wrong with going outside of WI to get the best players you can find? I follow two college programs - UW and Mizzou. You should hear the Mizzou locals complain about how that program let Monte Ball (Wentzville MO) get away. If UW didn't focus on players outside the state they would have missed players like Ball, Dayne, Russell Wilson, Scott Tolzien, Garrrett Graham, Owen Daniels, etc, etc. Badgers fans shouldn't care where the next stars come from.
  7. BadgerBeerBong
    Report Abuse
    BadgerBeerBong - February 09, 2013 7:34 am
    I totally agree with you badgerfan1. I'm tired of reading or hearing about Wiscosin kids excelling in other schools football programs. I'm glad that they are but why not here in the State they were born and raised. I can tell you this, Wisconsin has great work ethic; put those kids to work and give them a great education here!
  8. badgerfan1
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    badgerfan1 - February 09, 2013 6:55 am
    It really does not matter where he recruits from as long as he wins. Yet some of these articles are making me wonder--first there was the JC recruits. Well OK he was late in the game for recruiting so maybe to fill a need (not sure QB was a big need if he is going to run a pro-style offense). Now we are talking about recruiting in Tong, Samoa, Hawaii, and the west coast. I still think Alvarez and yes Bielema had the right idea in sealing up and off the best in state recruits. I know that the level of high school football in WI does not compare to that in Ohio, MIchigan, Penn., Texas, and the south eastern states, yet every year there are 2 or 3 of top recruits that can be molded into exceptional players (Watts, Joe Thomas, Carini, etc) and I believe that you can not let these players leave and play for other schools (a principle I wish Bo Ryan would abide by). I would be more confident if I heard how he realises the importance of recruiting in the areas WI has had success rather than what we are hearing. I remember the last time a coach road in out of the west (well the Southwest) named Don Morton and he talked about recruiting players out of Texas. Well the players he recruited were second or third wrung players and we remember the results. So please seal of the state and then start building bridges to areas where we have historically been successful--please!

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