All through the Dick Tomey era the Wildcats were known for defense, lack of offensive ingenuity and great special teams. All of these things were important to the program, and to Tomey himself, but one tradition that is often under appreciated to those that follow the Cats is the tradition of Polynesian players in the Wildcat program.
Under Tomey, the Wildcats took great pride in seeing some of the hardest names to say appear on the roster. Names like Brandon Manumaleuna, George Malau'ulu, Joe Siofele, Manuia Save'a, Ega Usu, Edwin Mulitalo, Makoa and Makai Freitas and Ben Alualu littered the roster year in and year out under the Tomey administration.
Along with the hard to say names were guys that are either of Polynesian ancestry or that came to Arizona from the Hawaiian Islands. Guys like Steven Grace, Keoni and Keoki Fraser, Malosi Leonard, Ben and Van Tuinei and Steve Young were all a part of the Arizona program, and that is just names from the mid 1990's through the end of the decade.
When Dick Tomey was fired, allowed to resign, or whatever really happened, he took the Polynesian pipeline with him. It wasn't something that he intended to take with him but he did none the less. When John Mackovic was hired he decided from the get go that recruiting the Hawaiian Islands, as well as American Samoa, were not really in the Wildcats' best interest. While he may not explicitly say that was the case, it surely showed in his recruiting efforts.
In Mackovic's two full recruiting classes and two half classes he signed a grand total of three players of Polynesian decent. In 2002, his second class, he signed Kili Lefotu, Carl Tuitavuki and Paul Philipp. In 2003 Arizona did not sign any and in 2004 Mackovic received a commitment from Chris Kolone, who ultimately signed with Arizona. So in his very brief tenure as Arizona's head coach Mackovic signed a grand total of three players fitting the Polynesian profile, four if you count Kolone.
It took Mackovic two and a half years to completely destroy the pipeline that Dick Tomey had created for Arizona. The Polynesian pipeline had produced great results for the Tomey teams as many of the Polynesian players that donned the Cardinal and Navy played key roles in the Wildcats successes under Tomey. After their successes as Wildcats, many of those players went on to play professional football with many.
It may have been Mackovic's inability to connect with many of the Polynesian players and their families or it may have been a direct result of not wanting to recruit many of those players. Either way, the pipeline that Arizona had was gone. Along with Mackovic's inabilities there was another factor that was working against Arizona with Polynesian players. Everyone else in the country was starting to take notice that these Polynesian kids can really play the game and many more schools were recruiting the Islands. You started to see schools like Nebraska, Auburn and Tennessee recruiting kids from the Islands.
Enter Mike Stoops.
When Stoops was hired to replace Mackovic he announced that the Wildcats would concentrate their recruiting efforts on the home state of Arizona and the recruiting hotbeds of California and Texas. He put together a coaching staff with great ties to all three states and they, so far, have proven to be great hires. But one of the over looked hires has really aided the Cats in their attempt to rebuild the Polynesian pipeline to Tucson. Defensive tackles coach Mike Tuiasosopo has quietly helped Arizona rebuild bridges that were previously destroyed.
Since Tuiasosopo has been making recruiting trips to Hawaii and Samoa as an Arizona coach, the Wildcats have signed four players with ties to the Islands (William Tuitama, Conan Amituanai, Lolomana Mikaele and Brandyn McCall) and they received commitments for the 2007 class from two such players already and are recruiting many more.
During the Stoops tenure as head coach the Wildcats have also hosted more than 20 players on official visits that fit the profile. It is becoming clear that the Arizona recruiting efforts are not just tied to hotbeds like Texas and California but the under appreciated talent base that the Islands has to offer.
The tradition of Arizona defense and teams that play with attitude and pride has returned to Tucson with the Mike Stoops regime. And thankfully the tradition of Polynesian players is also returning to a program that once was the innovator in being a legitimate destination for Polynesian players.
The good old days of hearing Brian Jeffries say names like Manumaleuna and Save'a are returning. Now Jeffries can look forward to saying the names Amituanai, Mikaele and if Stoops and Tuiasosopo have their way names like Apaita Tuihalamaka and Kaniela Tuipulotu and Will Tukuafu will join the fray and will add to the tradition of Polynesian players wearing the Cardinal and Navy.