Nothing means more than family in Polynesian culture.
At Cactus High School in Peoria, Arizona the Polynesian culture’s focus on family has a huge influence on the football program.
“It’s contagious,” Cactus head coach Joseph Ortiz said. “It goes from not just the Poly kids we have, but the white kids, the black kids, the Mexican kids, every type of race.
“It just brings them all together and it’s cool to see they all get along. It’s crazy to see how connected those guys have made our team.”
Senior running back and linebacker Aki Pulu feels he has a responsibility to make sure his teammates feel a part of a family.
“Growing up my household was taught family is always at the top no matter what,” Pulu said. “Most Polynesian families feel the same, Samoan, Tongan, Hawaiian whatever you are, they take family seriously.
“Taking it to football, you don’t know how (other) families or households are, but when they’re at football I want them to feel like we’re their family, that they’re safe here.”
The D Led by @AkiPulu7 forces a 3-out pic.twitter.com/3G9Xj8rLp8
— My Recruits!!! (Coach Perrone) (@CoachPerrone) September 25, 2021
Senior wide receiver and safety Jojo Lagafuaina feels that familial tradition that the Polynesian players regard so highly has helped lead to some of the success Cactus has had.
“It helps us communicate on the field,” Lagafuaina said. “It translates to the whole team. Everyone sees how close we are and how easy it is for us to communicate with each other that everyone can do the same.”
The Polynesian kids are not blood family, but they have a unique bond with each other and their families.
“Somewhere down the bloodline I’m sure we’re related,” Lagafuaina said. “But we all consider each other family. We call each other brothers and cousins, we call each other’s parents aunties and uncles. We’re just that close that we all just consider ourselves family.”
Lagafuaina’s family is from Samoa. Pulu’s family is from Tonga.
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Both are getting to hit the gridiron this season with not only their Poly brothers, but their immediate brothers.
Lagafuaina shares the field with his younger brother Braiden who is a sophomore. Braiden is the JV quarterback and the backup quarterback on Varsity.
Pulu’s brother Vili is a junior who rotates in as a defensive end and is utilized at the tight end position to block.
“When I get to hit the field with him it’s really cool,” Pulu said of playing this season with Vili.
Vili initially did not want to come out and play football because he felt the sport was “too soft” as he’s used to rugby and playing tough without pads, but Pulu was able to convince him to come out and play with him for his senior season for the fall.
A majority of the Polynesian kids on the Cactus team play multiple sports.
In the fall, it’s football season. In the winter, rugby and in the spring, volleyball.
“Rugby is what made me a really good football player,” Pulu said. “It taught me how to tackle and how to read a defense.”
After the Mustangs fumble a punt return, the Cobras’ @JilesDamian strides in from 3 yards out. @WillGalvan2023 finds Vili Pulu for 2. 3 turnovers tonight for SMHS.@CactusHSCobras 28@SMHSFootballFam 7
8:00 – 3rd Quarter@AzNewsmedia #WestValleyPreps #AzPreps365 pic.twitter.com/LTAgNeNTdO
— Matt Loeschman (@MattLoeschman) September 25, 2021
Ortiz said the team gets out on the field before practice and will play some touch rugby and has even incorporated some rugby like plays into the offense which is just another component of the Poly flair that Cactus has adopted.
As for volleyball, the sport is popular for the Polynesians.
“Everybody that is Polynesian plays volleyball,” Pulu said. “Football is serious, volleyball is our peaceful place and we just have fun.”
Lagafuaina does not play for the school team, but said he still enjoys playing recreationally with friends and family.
RISING TO THE CHALLENGE
Senior quarterback Will Galvan said he appreciates the bond that the Polynesian kids have helped create on the team, but he also feels they contribute in a big way to the physicality of the team.
“They bring a different level of toughness with them,” Galvan said. “I think everybody sees that and everybody aspires to be a little tougher in that way.”
The Cobras are 5-0 heading into this week’s matchup with their West Valley neighbors, the Desert Edge Scorpions.
Cactus has outscored opponents 272-32 this season. They’ve scored at least 50 points in every game.
Just last week, Galvan set a Cactus school record with seven passing touchdowns in the Cobras’ win against Poston Butte.
The early success is welcomed, but the Cobras are ready for to what is to come on Friday night.
“After scoring 50 plus points the last few weeks,” Pulu said. “I’m looking forward to a real challenge this week.”