Developing student athletes in order to offer youth another pathway to university is the aim of Samoa Gridiron.
In his second year of setting up the Gridiron programme in Samoa, coach Agatupu Lefao says that there has been an increasing amount of interest and his five-year plan includes adding one team per year from a different village in order to have a full league (5 teams).
“Each year we are trying to establish one school per year meaning a primary school with a high school so we’re not trying to speed up the programme. Hopefully my five-year plan will have a five school league like American Samoa has in order to run the programme here. So every year for this under-14s we’ll try and get two games out of the year to start with and hopefully join American Samoa and their league next year,” he said.
To Lefao this programme is more than just playing the game of football, but rather using it as a vehicle to gain world-class tertiary education in the United States. It is why their programme puts an emphasis on developing student athletes,
“The benefits of is having a university paying for your education and I think that’s the foremost benefit of playing this sport, anything beyond that is up to that person depending on how hard they want to work to make the Manu Samoa, to make the All Blacks, to make the NFL. But as a high school coach my job is to try open doors for students to get into the university,” he added.
For a rugby-dominated country, Lefao is still optimistic about American football adding another positive dimension to the sporting opportunities available in Samoa.
“Yeah its always different for a new sport that’s breaking the surface here but we just got to get used to it. it’s one of those sports that will help our kids get into universities in America. It’s something we have to deal with and keep working at it so we can help kids get a better education. A lot of players here are all dominated by rugby, in American football or any other sport that we have in Samoa – it’s just another sport to help the kids. We can’t all fit in the rugby roster, we can’t all fit into English cricket roster, so having another sport gives our kids another sports opportunity that they can play.”
The American university system puts a strong emphasis on the concept of student athletes and athletes can receive a quality education as well as compete at the highest level in any undergraduate sports league.
Lefao sees an opportunity for Samoan students to use gridiron as a pathway to higher education in the United States which is why the grid iron programme offers several tutoring sessions a week and S.A.T/A.C.T prep courses to prepare students for the standardized entrance exams for American universities.
“The highest Grade point average (G.P.A) you can achieve is 4.0 and that’s where we want our students to be. You can get into universities below a 3.0 but we are trying to keep the standards up to a 4.0 and that’s the system that we are trying to accomplish here.”
The programme is already running successfully in American Samoa and last week Lefao, who is also president of Samoa Gridiron in Samoa, ran a camp for a group of under-14s boys for the first with the help of his American Samoa Gridiron counterparts. It is the second year of running camps and competitions between Samoa and American Samoa.
Last week, coaching clinics were running simultaneously with the football camp which is another way that Lefao intends to grow the sport here in Samoa.
“I have a staff of three coaches including myself. American Samoa came with six staff which was tremendous help for me. That way our kids have more quality time with coaches. For us to coach them when they leave, they know exactly what we are talking about. We are always looking for extra help. “
Samoa Gridiron has partnered with the US Embassy, Nelson Memorial Public Library and the US Peace Corps to offer after-school tutorials to the students involved in the program. The students meet in the American Corner at the Nelson memorial Public Library and work with Peace Corps Volunteers to get their homework, IA’s and studying done. This program is for one hour a day and takes place three times a week.