12-year-old Naufahu Whyte has attracted interest from American Football Scouts
12-year-old Naufahu Whyte has attracted interest from American Football Scouts
12-year-old Naufahu Whyte has attracted interest from American Football Scouts

American Football scouts recruiting young Polynesian men from New Zealand to play gridiron for schools and universities in the U.S is nothing new – that is until they express interest in recruiting Polynesian boys as young as 12 years old.

That is the objective of American Football Scout, Robert Alvarez, who will be heading to New Zealand and the Pacific early next year to try and do just that. Alvarez is the head of Xtreme Youth Football based in Los Angeles, California and has recruited talent for U.S high schools and universities for over six years. He says Polynesian athletes are a global sports commodity because of their size and strength.

Aucklander Sam Alefaio took up a football scholarship for the University of Arizona | Photo: stuff.co.nz
Aucklander Sam Alefaio took up a football scholarship for the University of Arizona | Photo: stuff.co.nz

Several local Polynesian teenagers have taken up scholarships to play American football for U.S universities in the past including 1.98 metre giant Sam Alefaio from South Auckland who landed a full scholarship to play gridiron for Arizona Western College in 2009. But Alvarez believes athletes should be introduced to the sport at an even younger age.

“New Zealand has so much talent in rugby,” says Alvarez. “A Polynesian athlete that is brought from New Zealand and is age 16 has two years to develop into a top prospect for top colleges in the sport of  American football.  Many of them take one year just to understand the sport and be able to fully grasp the concepts of offense and defense. If we can bring them in at ages 12 -14, the kid will surely be more prepared and have a better chance to compete against America’s top football talent.”

Although the intiative is in its early stages, his trip here will be the first of many as he aims to inform families of talented athletes that American Football is a viable option. Sponsorship through his programmes would offer young Pacific boys (and their parents) travel and accommodation in the U.S for a few months of the year (during their football season); food, allowances and a chance for young athletes to learn and develop their skills in American gridiron – all while gaining a quality American education and life experience.

Alvarez understands that targeting the younger Polynesian boys will be a challenge and convincing their parents to consider American football as an alternative option to rugby can prove difficult in a country where rugby dominates and where kids dream of being an All Black.

However Steve Sitivi, SUGA Magazine sports columnist says this is a fantastic opportunity.

“Personally myself, I think it’s a great idea to have programmes like this to promote our gifted sporting youth,” he says. “While many of our New Zealand Polynesian young rugby players do aspire to achieve the highest honour of gaining All Black test status, the chances of realising this goal are still reasonably remote.”

Former Manu Samoa rugby player Eliota Fuimoano-Sapolu agrees.

“Thousands of young polynesian boys are lost in a tunnel vision, media driven, polynesian pursuit for the All Black dream,” he says. “The reality is that 99.9 percent of polynesian rugby players will get nowhere in rugby. They will never play a single pro game. The worst part is that after failing to make it, theyre without any education and low self esteem. Furthermore, of the tiny fraction  who do make the pros, the average playing career is only three years.”

Mr Alvarez acknowledges that adapting to a whole new country and culture at such a young age may also be daunting.  He aims to work with Pacific people in both New Zealand and the USA in understanding that aspects such as family and religion are all significant in Pacific culture and play a part in decision-making.

Agnes and Ofa Whyte are the parents of 12-year-old Naufahu Whyte who is Samoan/Tongan.  Naufahu plays rugby for his local Mount Roskill club and has played in the Auckland’s Roller Mills tournaments.  Alvarez was impressed with Naufahu’s athleticism after watching a video of him playing on YouTube.  Subsequently he approached the Whytes.

“It’s not a decision we would take lightly, but we would consider it,” says Mrs Whyte. “It would only be a few months of the year and this program could help him [Naufahu] academically too if he could eventually gain a university scholarship out of it.  The good thing about the U.S system is that they place emphasis on players passing grades before they can play unlike here in New Zealand.”

Mrs Whyte does agree that a career in American Football offers more security.

“It’s a gateway to the NFL. It could set him up for life.”

Those interested in attending Alvarez’s seminars in New Zealand can contact him on

www.facebook.com/XtremeYFC

 

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