The goals of wealth, super-stardom and national attention are certainly understandable. But they aren't the vehicles for Minnesota Vikings rookie Ed Ta'amu's happiness.
He's never been driven by money. Being the center of attention isn't all that attractive, either. In fact, given a choice, he'd prefer a lifestyle of being another anonymous face out in public, without anyone ever noticing or caring.
What Ta'amu wants from a professional football career is much different than most. Rather than build an expensive collection of a half-dozen glitzy cars and glamorous SUVs, Ta'amu wants nothing more than to make his dad proud and earn respect for his family name in Hawaii.
"For me, I just want to do good for my family," Ta'amu says.
Ta'amu is Samoan, a Pacific Islander who graduated from Honolulu High School. After spending five years at Utah, earning a degree in sociology, Ta'amu was selected by the Vikings in the fourth round of the NFL draft last April.
Ta'amu isn't the first Samoan to play in the NFL or even for the Vikings. From 1988-1992, Al Noga played defensive end for the Vikings. Noga's brother, Niko Noga, played with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Joe Salave'a (Tennessee) and Toniu Fonoti (San Diego) are two of a handful of Samoans who currently are building careers in the NFL.
"They're just trying to make a good name for our people," Ta'amu said. "I'm just hoping to be one of them."
It's been an ongoing dream of Ta'amu to represent his Pacific Island brethren with pride, even though seeing his athletic career progress to such great heights didn't always appear realistic.
As a high school athletic star at Honolulu, Ta'amu won the state discus championship with a throw of 181 feet — a distance still at the top of Hawaii's record books. Still, it wasn't always a certainty that Ta'amu would be allowed to advance to the next level.
Because of academic setbacks, Ta'amu was eligible for college, but only as a Proposition 48 athlete. The Prop 48 NCAA rule stipulates that a student-athlete must sit out the first year of athletics, so he or she can focus on academics. If the freshman grades meet a standard by the end of the school year, the athlete becomes eligible for sports in the second season, and they still are eligible for three more years of athletics.
Ta'amu wasn't highly recruited out of high school. But Utah showed interest and — via Prop 48 — was willing to take a chance. It was the opening in the door that Ta'amu needed.
"I really believe in fate, everything happening for a reason," Ta'amu said. "I came out of high school not highly recruited, but then [Utah] saw my potential. They were the only school that showed love to the Pacific Islanders. They had a few cats out there that played at Utah who were there when I came out on a recruiting trip, and they told me how much love the coaches and the school and everyone in Utah shows for the Pacific Islanders."
Ta'amu joined the Utes as an offensive guard, then was switched to defensive line. After spending more time on the sidelines than on the field, Ta'amu grew impatient and requested a meeting with his coaches.
"I wasn't really happy with my playing time," Ta'amu said. "I felt like that was the best shape I had been in, so I thought I deserved more playing time. The guy starting ahead of me was a good athlete, too, so he deserved to play. I thought I deserved to play, too, so I switched back to offensive line to get more playing time.
"It was the best decision I made."
After making that final switch back to the offensive line as a junior, Ta'amu quickly became the Utes' best offensive lineman. In his final two seasons with Utah, he led the team in blocking consistency and knockdown blocks.
The NFL Draft Report placed Ta'amu on their Super Sleeper team. The Vikings, obviously, had him on the board as well.
"The kid is a mauler," Vikings offensive line coach Steve Loney told VU on draft day. "He's a very, very physical player, and because of that, that's where we are going to have to work to improve his game in pass protection. He's a very aggressive [player]. If anything, you are going to have to tone him down a little, not obviously on the run, but on the pass."
Ta'amu's agent told him to expect to get drafted Sunday, in the later rounds. But rumors began to surface around the Utah campus that Ta'amu may get drafted Saturday in the first three rounds.
"Rumor had it I was going the first day, so we watched Saturday, nothing happened, and I was disappointed," he said. "I was getting ready for church Sunday morning and the call came unexpectedly. I had never talked to anyone on the Vikings staff. I was watching TV and they said the Vikings had the next pick. Then the phone rings and I thought, ‘No, it couldn't be the Vikings.' I had never talked to anyone at the Senior Bowl or at the Combine, so I thought the Vikings would be one of the last teams that would pick me."
Instead, they were the first.
Four month later, Ta'amu finds himself battling for the opportunity to back up Dave Dixon at right guard and earn a spot on the 53-man roster. At 6-foot-1, 335 pounds, Ta'amu still is a raw offensive lineman who relies more on brute strength rather than technique. It's still too early to tell whether Ta'amu will — as a rookie — be labeled prominent or a project. For now, he is on the practice and in more of the project category.
That's why he takes advantage of being Dixon's understudy — on the field and off.
"Big Dave told me to do everything full speed, to always be prepared for whatever's coming," said Ta'amu, who's been nagged by a strained medial collateral ligament. "Dave's helping me on and off the field. He tells me what to expect from the state of Minnesota, what to expect from the team, how to deal with my girl as we come into the league. … Dave and his wife Pam have been helping us out a lot. We're building that relationship with them."
Admittedly, friends and family give Ta'amu more happiness than any paycheck could.
For that reason, Ta'amu says, the greatest gift he can give his family carries no price tag. Even though he's only in the infant stages of his NFL career, Ta'amu already knows that pride can't be purchased.
"I just want to do good for my family," he said. "My dad passed away last January, so me and my brother are the only Ta'amus left on the earth. We want to do him proud, so everybody knows that my dad didn't leave this Earth not doing anything.
"Through us, I'm hoping that my dad's family name will be out there for our culture, so the people back home in Hawaii and Samoa will know that if a little kid like me can grow up not knowing what might happen to him, that with prayers and thinking about the man upstairs, that we'll get his blessings."
Current Vehicle: Doesn't drive
Favorite Food: Chicken cordon bleu
Favorite Movie: Jerry Maguire
Toughest Player I've Ever Faced: Chris Hovan
Hobbies: Polynesian dancing, playing piano
If I Weren't Playing in the NFL, I'd Be: finishing my second degree, or work for the FBI.
Getting To Know: Guard Ed Ta'amu
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