Fu Faapito’s Story.
The Irish American Football League has witnessed many talented athletes adopt a playing career on Irish soil since its formation back in 1984. 30 years on, and the IAFL can claim to have accommodated the services of players who have gone on to win Shamrock Bowl medals, improved the quality of Irish Football and earned legendary status in the process.
As some of the veteran players begin to call time on their distinguished careers, it is important to look back on their contribution and how they have helped increased the profile of American Football in Ireland. With that being said, NFL-Ireland were given the great pleasure of interviewing one of the IAFL’s most popular and gifted players over recent years. This is the story of ex Drogheda, Craigavon and Belfast wide receiver, Fu Faapito.
Fu’s journey through football has come along way, and his path to Irish Football is a lot different to most. Born originally in Western Samoa in 1976, now known simply as Samoa, Fu’s family soon moved off to Hawaii before settling down in Long Beach, California during the mid 80’s. Although American Football was extremely popular at the time, Fu didn’t get his first taste of America’s game until the early 1990’s at the age of 14. However, despite his willingness to play at a young age, there were often a number of problems that would prevent him from playing any type of sport, not just football.
‘I first got started playing football as a freshman in high school. My brother’s played for our High School that was called Mayfair High School in Lakewood, California. I’ve always wanted to play football at a young age but wasn’t allowed due to money and strict parenting. I grew up in a Christian home and my father was a Pastor, so we never had the chance to play any kind of sport. At times, we weren’t allowed to play outside. Although they were strict, they were loving Samoan parents.’ – Fu Faapito
Money and parenting proved to be the least of Fu’s worries. Living in Long Beach, the family’s neighbourhood was susceptible to violence and gang related activity, something that quickly became a part of their everyday lives.
‘We grew up in gang environment living in Long Beach. Back then it was rough, the Crips and Bloods were at war with each other and my brothers ran with the Blood’s. Life was heading the wrong way. The gang life still had a hold on my brothers, so we relocated to a city called Bellflower to get away from the gang scene.’
Despite the gang lifestyle having a grip on the family, Fu explained that one influential figure in his life gave him a way out; his football Coach, Jack Summers.
‘A lot of credit for us Faapito’s goes to the late Coach, Jack Summers. “The Godfather”, seen the potential in our family and talked to my parents about allowing us to try out football, wrestling and Track and they soon agreed. From then onwards, we left the gang scene and it was all about sports’.
This is Coach Summers and the Varsity Wrestling team. I think its in 1989 or 1990. My brother Nuuvali (back row 2nd guy) My brother Pete (back row 2nd to last) and my brother John (bottom row 2nd to last beside Coach) Coach Summers flashing the “S” for Summers. – Fu Faapito.
Sport was increasingly becoming a major part of Fu’s life and he was relishing the opportunity to compete at various levels of sporting activity. Despite him being a competent athlete at a young age, Football wasn’t always his first sporting preference.
‘Sport in general was the biggest escape for me once we were allowed to play. Football wasn’t my first choice as a teen, Wrestling was what I loved and football came second. Back then I was using football to stay fit for wrestling season, but I did love to play football…and besides, I didn’t want to go home to do homework….’
Fu went on to explain that sport was having not only a positive impact on his own life; but that of his parents too. Sport allowed for his family to enjoy a sense of freedom and to give them hope during troubling times. So much so, that his entire family quickly became huge football fans!
Nuuvali Faapito (bottom) competing for the Colorado State Rams.
‘The gang influence was gone and we started playing and watching more football. My family became big USC Trojans fans and now Colorado State Rams fans because our Nephew is playing for them. It’s funny because my Dad still goes to the Mayfair football games every Friday night and we graduated many years ago. So football influenced even my parents. The loudest and best fans I had were my parents’.
Not long after graduating from college, Fu would meet the next influential figure in his life; his wife, Triona. Originally from Dundalk, Triona was attending college at Azusa Pacific University, and whilst Fu was working at Camp Cedar Crest in the Big Bear Mountains, that would be where he would meet his future wife.
‘You know, everyone in the states claims they are Irish, but I had never met a real Irish person from Ireland. When she started talking, I had no clue what she was saying…So I had to find out what she was all about and a few years later we were married and a year after that, Ireland became my home.’
So, with Fu now settled on Irish pastures, he quickly set about trying to find the closest Football team available.
‘When I moved to Ireland, I looked up teams and locations. At that time, the Dublin Rebels were the nearest team for me to play for, but I thought it was too far. I gave up on playing again and just concentrated on coaching Basketball, but my wife seen an advert in the paper a few years later. She told about this new DV8’s team being formed in Drogheda called Drogheda Lightning. I told myself that I will just try it for a year and then retire… that didn’t work out too well because I kept playing. I fell back in love with football again.’
One of the first coaches Fu had the pleasure of playing for, was that of the newly formed Lightning coach, Russell Kerley. Coach Kerley and Faapito would build a close relationship, and they still keep in regular contact today. Fu explained that he appreciated the message that Kerley would instill into his players, both on and off the field.
‘Coach Kerley was not only a good coach, but he is a great person; A person I call a good friend.’
‘His coaching style is on point…Fundamentals, Fundamentals, Fundamentals! Keep it simple, know the game, love the game and go out there and smash!!’
After a period with Drogheda, Fu’s desire for more football grew and it wasn’t long before he was in contact with the late, great Terry Lynch. Lynch and Faapito had been in regular contact throughout the season and it wasn’t long before Fu was making the long trips up North to play for the Cowboys and Coach Loughran. Although he was travelling long distances to make training and game days each week, he was fully committed to playing 11-a-side contact football.
‘While playing for Drogheda, I met the late and great Terry Lynch and we had a few good talks throughout the season and he told me about the Cowboy’s. I had met some of the boys like Chris Bell, Chris Bondi and Gary Carr and was sold on what they wanted to do for the upcoming season. I think they had just beaten the Trojans in the playoff’s so they were forming a squad to try and go all the way’.
Although Fu’s time with the Cowboys was brief, he was very appreciative and grateful for the opportunity.
‘My time with the Cowboys was awesome. Played with some good talent there. We had a good squad and the boys played hard all season. I enjoyed my time with them. I do want to wish them all the best in all they do, great talent and great coach’.
During Fu’s first game for Craigavon against the Trojans, he was approached by opposition Linebacker, Rob Lyttle, and to the unlikely surprise, they both shared very similar connections.
‘My first game for Craigavon was against the Trojans and all I heard was “What’s up Uce”, and then I seen his tattoo’s and thought, ‘hold on… this white guy just called me Uce?!’. Then after talking to Rob, it turned out he grew up with Samoan’s in the Torrance/Carson area and I grew up in Long Beach so the friendship was on and cracking after that. We talked throughout the year, along with Ale Aletasi about teaming up, so I joined the Trojans for what I thought was for a year that turned into two. Rob is my long lost brother. My USO for life. Aiga Always!’.
Coming across two players from the same Californian background on a cold day in Craigavon was as unlikely as two polar bears walking through Belfast City centre. So, for these two players to have met was an incredible coincidence, but it turned into a remarkable friendship. Fu described Rob as being a huge influence on his life, particularly off the field as well on as on it, and we managed to catch up with Rob who gave us his thoughts on Fu’s playing career.
‘As far as our relationship goes, he is my USO. My brother. What’s mine is his. I have nothing but love for Fu as a man, a father, an athlete. If I met him outside of playing ball I would still feel the same way. He is just a good person.’ – Rob Lyttle
‘As a player Fu is just a baller. He can play anywhere. He is probably still mad at me for him playing Offense when he wanted to play Defense. When he came we needed more help on O and Fu being who he is and a team first guy, he just went with it and did his thing and balled as expected. My USO is one of the most athletically gifted players in the IAFL. Next season is my last season. I am still trying to get Fu to ball with me for my last year and told him it will be on D, just to add a little extra bait’. – Rob Lyttle
During his first season with the Trojans, Fu guided the Belfast outfit to their second consequetive Shamrock Bowl triumph by scoring a touchdown to help them overcome the Dublin Rebels in the final. It was Faapito’s first Championship medal in Ireland.
‘It felt great. Being able to still play and re-live the glory days felt really good. I’m truly blessed to be able to play for the Trojans and playing with a great bunch of guys was awesome. Getting to play in Tallaght in front of a great crowd was amazing. The road to the Shamrock Bowl isn’t getting any easier. There are a lot of good teams in Ireland and for me personally, it’s great to see. Being able to win it twice with the Trojans is something I’ll cherish for the rest of my days.’
Unfortunately, Fu’s participation towards the end of the 2014 season became limited, as he suffered torn ligaments in his shoulder during the Friday Night Lights game against the Carrickfergus Knights. He openly admitted to be struggling during both the semi-final and final matches, and claimed that his only regret was not being able to compete fully in the off-season. That being said, Fu did go on to win his second Shamrock Bowl title in a close contest with Trinity College and end his personal playing career on a high.
With another title to his resume, Fu is now contemplating retiring from football, but admits that the urge to kit up once again is still within him.
‘The future for Fu Faapito is to concentrate on God, family and work. To stay humble, love and live life. My next step is to figure out what’s next for me as far as football. The North has been good to me these last 3 years, but unfortunately the Northern Lights were too much for me. My son’s rugby and basketball life is my main focus now and I will decide in January where I’ll play football next. If I decide to play again.’
‘I know I am not getting any younger so I will make that decision fairly soon. My beard is getting greyer as we speak! Speaking of beards, Joel Neill from the Carrickfergus Knights has the best beard in the league hands down….it’s a Masterpiece [haha]’.
Fu has been an incredible competitor during his spell in Ireland, and now has two Shamrock Bowl Championship’s to top off his playing career. Will Faapito play another season in the IAFL? Only he knows but whatever his decision, all of us at NFL-Ireland wish Fu all the best in his future endeavours, and if he does decide to play again, he will be an excellent player for anyone to have on their roster.
I thoroughly enjoyed chatting with Fu about his time in Ireland and gained a lot of knowledge along the way, a very humble and genuine man both on and off field. From having played Semi-Pro football for the Orange County Makos, to becoming a National Champion with the Trojans, Fu will surely go down as an IAFL Legend. He will now no doubt enjoy relaxing and sitting down to support his young Nephew, Nuuvali Faapito has he competes for the 8-1 Colorado State Rams. As a departing message, Fu had this to say,
‘I want to wish all the teams the best of luck for this upcoming season. It’s great to see the rise in talents from everywhere across Ireland. Also, best wishes to the new Irish National team players and coaches. Going to miss hearing ‘Fuuuuuuuuu’ from the Trojans sideline!’
‘Lastly, Thank You Drogheda Lightning, Craigavon Cowboys and the Belfast Trojans for the opportunity to be apart of your clubs. Good luck to ALL competing this season. Be Humble…Stay Humble…Play Humble’.
Quick fire questions:
Q – Who will win the Shamrock Bowl in 2015?
A – ‘I think a few teams will have a really good chance to win it, but I would tip the Trojans to win it again. KTTFFH!’
Q – Best player you have played with?
A – ‘There have been a lot of good players I’ve played with in every position like P. Loughran, Bobby Murray, David Colvin, James McKelvey, Jeroen Egge, Rob Lyttle, Patrick McElkerney, this list would go on but If I had to pick, I would choose Neil ‘Pocket’ Montgomery. He has been very consistent and a joy to watch him smash defenders. Two time Shamrock Bowl MVP? Can’t beat it!’
Q – If someone asked you about trying out football, what would you tell them?
A – ‘Do it!! You’ll never know how fun it is until you try. If you like to smash people then football is your sport. Fun and exciting!’