BY TIM PEELER RALEIGH, N.C. New NC State football player Nate Mageo is looking forward to Saturday, but not just because that’s the day of the Wolfpack’s annual intra-squad spring game.
It’s also the biggest sporting day in his native American Samoa, when islanders race 40-person longboats from the individual villages (and one representing the island’s only McDonalds) over a seven-mile course into Pago Pago Harbor.
April 17 is American Samoa Flag Day, the biggest holiday of the year on the string of volcanic islands and coral atolls that were claimed as a U.S. territory in 1900 by Navy Captain Benjamin Franklin Tilley. Saturday’s Fautasi longboat races are the highlight of the three-day celebration festival.
Mageo, a junior college defensive tackle who was one of four new football recruits to enroll at NC State in January, grew up training for his powerhouse seat position, enduring two-a-day practices from February to April that were easily as difficult as his football training. He also grew up playing rugby, the most popular sport overall in the Samoan archipelago, a string of islands in the South Pacific halfway between Hawaii and New Zealand.
Or, in practical terms, about 7,000 miles from Mageo’s new home in Raleigh.
But it was football the American Samoa’s biggest imported passion that took Mageo from Pago Pago to New Mexico Military Institute in Roswell, N.M., to Raleigh, thanks in great part to a recruiting tape from the fourth-annual Samoa Bowl, which pits the best high school players from Hawaii and America Samoa in a New Year’s Day all-star game.
“When we are young we play rugby a lot,” Mageo says. “Once we get to high school, we get to play football. Rowing is a big sport growing up. But we don’t have Pop Warner football, that’s why we play rugby. Kids are playing rugby all over the place. I didn’t start playing football until freshman year in high school.”