Third in a three-part series on the impact of Polynesian players on American football.
MANHATTAN, Kan. -- Moses Manu destroys the American ideal.
Embarrasses the image of the plucky U.S. athlete.
|Moses Manu chases an opposing quarterback last season at El Camino. (El Camino College)|
Try this for a fast track: Manu earned himself a major-college football scholarship last month after taking up the game as a high school senior. That, after first learning football through a two-week crash course at home playing Madden 2003.
"I just got into it," Manu said this week, about half a world away from his native Tonga. "I got good at the game. I knew everything. I knew what a first down was. I knew routes, quick slants, curls."
And football isn't even his favorite sport. Manu grew up playing rugby in New Zealand and Australia. After moving with his family from Sydney to Los Angeles three years ago, Manu scoured the Internet for a rugby team to join.
He found the prestigious Santa Monica Rugby Club, hopped on his bike and began pedaling from his home in Inglewood.
Through L.A. traffic, mind you.
"It took me 1½ hours," he said. "I missed the game so much. I took a street directory with me and stopped every half hour to check. When I told the coach what I did, he was surprised."
Now, really, how many Oprah-raised, McDonald's-gorged kids in this country would go to such lengths? Take Manu's path in reverse. Dump an American kid in a South Pacific nation and tell him to excel at rugby, perhaps the toughest sport in the world.
Now you begin to see what is happening. CBS SportsLine.com has spent this week chronicling Polynesians' influence on college football, how Samoans and Tongans are built to succeed at the sport -- physically and culturally.
But with guys like Manu, there's something more that can only be measured in the gut.
Manu's dad is a contractor. His jobs have taken the family from their native Tonga to New Zealand to Australia to California to Arizona. John and Letisia Manu have 11 children scattered at those stopping points.
More than survive, they thrive. Somehow.
"I have a brother who is a bodybuilder in Australia," Moses said. "He wanted me to stay there and continue playing rugby. But it was something that attracted me to come to America. Just thinking about Disneyland, I wanted to see Hollywood."
He saw it and conquered it. That ride to rugby practice eventually got old and Madden took hold. Manu went out for his Inglewood Morningside as a 17-year-old senior. Everything seemed to come together, like all the arrows and dotted lines on the video game.
Now after three years of organized football, only 14 games as a juco DE, Manu is a favorite to start for the Wildcats in the fall as a 6-foot-3, 260-pound specimen.
Who needs experience when the physical and mental ability to pick up an entirely new game is written into your DNA?
"I had to do something," he said. "I couldn't sit around. I'd get out of shape."
At El Camino College in Torrance, Calif., he switched from tight end to defensive end with two games left in the 2004 season.
Last season he had nine sacks.
Ho-hum. He had do something.
In an offseason seven-on-seven game with USC and UCLA players, Manu glimpsed his future -- one established Polynesian star going against a rising one.
"I had a chance to play against Lofa Tatupu," Manu said of the current Seattle linebacker, a second-generation Samoan. "I caught three passes right in the middle. It looked like he was trying to hit me so I stiff-armed him twice. He came in with an elbow.
"I started laughing."
So much for touch football.
Santa Monica Rugby Club coach Stuart Krohn got wind of Manu's accomplishments this week. He did have a vague memory of a kid biking to practice more than three years ago.
"Tell him ... we look forward to getting him back to the rugby field," Krohn said via e-mail. "Let him know he can make good money playing rugby overseas now."
For now, the next stop is The Little Apple. Manu looks like a recruiting coup for new K-State coach Ron Prince. The rookie head coach beat out the likes of Arizona, Cal and San Diego State. Manu is believed to be only the second or third Polynesian to come to K-State.
"There's nothing but football here," Manu said among the stark landscape of the Flint Hills. "That's all I wanted. I had too much city life. It's too distracting."
Manu's kind of overachievement mocks American kids who have spent 12 years playing youth football just to get that precious scholarship.
A scholarship Manu could have earned out of high school.
In the rush to assimilate to our culture, Manu never sent in his transcripts for consideration by the NCAA Clearinghouse. He found out four weeks ago that he spent two needless years playing juco football.
"He came out (of high school) as a qualifier," said Chris Jeffries, El Camino athletic counselor. "The final transcripts were never sent."
That, you can understand. Manu knows grit, determination, rugby, Madden and football. No one ever told him how to gather up transcripts from Australia and Inglewood and forward them to the NCAA.
"I think a lot of it is ... their families don't know," Jeffries said.
Which means Manu is not going to forget where he came from.
"I grew up with so many good athletes," he said of his rugby-playing friends. "If I bring them there, they'd pick it up real fast. The hardest thing is trying to get them to play football."
Grab a controller. It worked for Moses Manu.