Polamalu has passion for family, football

Troy Polamalu is short and maybe a little too reckless with his body. He hits so hard, in fact, that he's given himself four concussions.<br><br> He hits too hard, some scouts say, but they said the same thing about Mike Singletary when he came out of college. Pittsburgh Steelers director of operations Kevin Colbert thought of another famous linebacker while talking about Polamalu.

"He plays safety like Junior Seau plays linebacker," Colbert said of his first-round pick.

Colbert and the Steelers traded third and sixth-round picks to the Kansas City Chiefs to move up 11 spots in the first round to draft the 5-foot-10 1/8, 206-pound strong safety out of the University of Southern California. Polamalu was a three-year starter and two-year special teams captain at USC and follows in a line of safeties that includes Ronnie Lott, Joey Browner, Mark Carrier, Sammy Knight, Dennis Smith, and Dennis Thurman. Obviously, the Steelers believe Polamalu will continue the USC legacy.

"I know a lot of people have talked about this guy as a box safety, that he's only good in a box," said Steelers Coach Bill Cowher. "This guy is a tremendous athlete. He ran 4.3-something in his workouts. His change of direction is unbelievable. He wasn't asked to cover, but I don't think there's going to be any problems he'll have in coverage. This is a very good athlete ... one of the few guys in this draft that had that unique ability to hit like a linebacker and cover like a corner."

At his campus workout, Polamalu (pronounced Poe-luh-MAH-loo) also lifted like a linebacker and ran like a corner. He was clocked at 4.35 in his 40-yard dash by several scouts. He also had a vertical jump of 43½ inches, a broad jump of 10-8, and bench-pressed 225 pounds 25 times.

On the field, Polamalu made 278 tackles in his three seasons as a starter. Twenty-nine of those tackles resulted in losses. He also had six interceptions, three of which he returned for touchdowns. He blocked four punts.

On the negative side, Polamalu's recklessness has been at the root of those concussions, the last of which occurred prior to last season. As a senior in high school, Polamalu missed most of the season with a bruised kidney, torn back muscles, and a sprained shoulder. He was hobbled most of last season with a high ankle sprain and was forced to leave the Orange Bowl with a hamstring injury, for which he took a shot that struck a nerve similar to what occurred with Jerome Bettis two years ago.

"He's got a soft melon and he's had the other injuries," an unnamed scout told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel recently. "His style of play kind of makes you wonder if the injuries are going to continue because the players that he's hitting just get bigger and faster and stronger."

Polamalu, of course, shrugs off the injury question, particularly the concussions. "I don't think they are an issue at all," he said. Colbert and the Steelers agree.

"He's had injuries; he's had concussions," Colbert said. "We had him in here. He met with our Dr. (Joseph) Maroon and came away with no problems. Players are going to get nicked, especially players that play as hard as he does. I think he'll probably deliver a few more blows than he'll take."

Polamalu, a Samoan, was born in Garden Grove, California, near Santa Ana, or gang country, so his mother moved Troy to Tenmile, Ore., to live with an aunt, uncle and cousins.

"It was the most unselfish and the hardest decision to make," Polamalu told the Dallas Morning News. "In a worst-case scenario, a mother would still want a son or daughter to be with her. But she knew it would be best for me to live with her older brother. They did a real good job of instilling in me that you're going to work for everything you get."

Polamalu played football at Douglas High in Oregon for his uncle. He rushed for 671 yards in an injury-shortened senior season and another uncle, who was coaching at San Diego State, called then-USC coach Paul Hackett to offer a tip. Hackett followed up and the recruiting process was sealed.

Polamalu started as a safety/linebacker at USC before moving to strong safety full time as a sophomore. In his junior season, Hackett gave way to former NFL coach Pete Carroll, who came away raving about Polamalu.

"He's as good a safety as I've every coached," Carroll said. "He's a brilliant football player. He's just as effective as those NFL guys I coached. ... He is creative, fast, tough and instinctive. He has a great heart, which all great players have."

Hit like a linebacker; run like a corner. The other great dichotomy involves Polamalu's assassin style of play on the field and devout religious life off of it. It's known as ‘Fa'a Samoan' style, or "being a gentleman everywhere but on the football field," said Ken Peters of the Associated Press.

It's the way Polamalu was raised. His close family is strewn with football players. His brother, Kaio Aumua, played football at UTEP. His uncle is former USC fullback Kennedy Pola, who's now the school's running backs coach. Another uncle, Al Pola, played at Penn State. A cousin, Nicky Sualua, was a running back with the Cincinnati Bengals and Dallas Cowboys after attending Ohio State. Another cousin, Leie Sualua, was a defensive lineman at Oregon, and yet another cousin, Joe Polamalu, played at Oregon State.

"I think Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala could tell you about how close the Samoan family is," Polamalu told Pittsburgh reporters Saturday.

He considers himself a student of the game, a student of the Bible, a family man, and a reckless headhunter. Polamalu loves the game and is the proverbial good kid.

"My love and passion for the game far outweighs any fear of injury," he said. "I think football is the truest form of a team sport. I think that for me, I am such a family person and to be a successful football team you have to have that family mentality. You have to love and trust everyone on the team. Any successful football team is run like a successful family."

Jim Wexell

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