SORENSEN: The beauty of Joe Salave'a

CONVENTIONAL WISDOM would say this: When two prospects from American Samoa are traveling to Washington State for an official recruiting visit it would be prudent to have them fly the leg from Seattle to Pullman. Think of the time being saved, right? Wrong, says Joe Salave'a. Last month, when Robert Barber and Destiny Vaeao tripped to WSU, Salave'a picked them up at Sea-Tac and drove to Pullman.

And when their weekend was done, the big defensive line coach drove them back to Sea-Tac. Round trip, we're talking close to 600 miles and more than nine hours.

Pullman's location, detractors say, is a hindrance in recruiting. Not so, says Joe, who told me last week at WSU's Signing Day celebration in Spokane that he insisted on driving Barber and Vaeao because it would mean focused, uninterrupted time to talk.

For him, the drive wasn't a hurdle. It was an opportunity. A golden opportunity for nothing but plain old fashioned talking.

I loved that story the second I heard it.

I didn't ask Joe what kind of rig he was driving but I'm thinking it had to be big. Joe himself looks like he could still be playing in the NFL, checking in at around 6-5 and 320, while Barber is 6-3, 290 and Vaeao is 6-3, 255.

On the road trip they talked about school, interests and potential majors. They talked about the family atmosphere of Pullman, and the coaching styles of Mike Leach and defensive coordinator Mike Breske. They talked about Salave'a's philosophy as a D-line coach and as a mentor.

The time in the car was an investment that paid big dividends.

Barber and Vaeao both committed to the Cougs. Barber is ticketed to play defensive tackle and Vaeao defensive end.

Their arrival in Pullman is Exhibit B backing up Mike Leach's comment back in December that American Samoa would be a key recruiting area for WSU.

Exhibit A, you ask?

That was the hiring of Salave'a.


He grew up in Samoa and is viewed there with reverence. It's not because he played nine years in the NFL. It's because he has never forgotten his roots. Case in point: Early on in his NFL career, at a time when most guys in his shoes would be livin' the life, he founded the Joe Salave'a Foundation to put on free football clinics for youngsters in American Samoa and Hawaii.

Upon landing in Pago Pago on his first recruiting trip back home since getting hired at WSU, he told me one of his first stops was to pay a visit to my old Cougar teammate, Samoa Samoa, who is a school principal there.

Samoa was a heck of a quarterback during what I consider the golden era of WSU's long connection to the Samoan community. In the late 70s and early 80s the Cougs featured a Who's Who of notables who were either from Samoa or whose parents originally were from there: Jack Thompson, Tali Ena, Matt Elisara, Dave Pritchard, Pili Tutuvanu, Junior Tupuloa and Junior Tautalatasi, among others.

With Joe Salave'a now wearing crimson and building upon the work Paul Wulff and his staff did in bringing Chester Sua, Sekope Kaufusi and Tana Pritchard into the program, I think WSU is on the verge of another golden era in its storied connection to the Samoan community.

If you don't believe me, just check the mileage on Joe's wheels and you'll have a good sense of where the Cougs are headed.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Paul Sorensen played safety for the Cougars from 1980-81, earning first-team All-American honors as a senior. He later played in the NFL and USFL. From 1985-98 he was the color commentator on radio broadcasts of Cougar football. He has held a similar role on Eastern Washington University broadcasts over the last several years. Also a long-time assistant coach in the Greater Spokane League, he's been writing periodically for CF.C since 1999. His columns here are labeled SLAP! The acronym stands for Sorensen Looks At the Program. The word also aptly describes the way Paul played safety and the way he does color commentary: in-your-face, nothing held back.

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