June 6, 2024

Togetherness Amongst Football, A Polynesian Culture

With Polynesians, they possess a sense of unity wherever they go — even miles from home in the Canadian Football League.

The Lions brought in several Polynesian athletes into this year’s camp, including defensive end Sione Teuhema’s older brother, Maea, former BC Lion J.R. Tavai’s younger brother, Jonah and first-year player, Juliano Falaniko.

Togetherness doesn’t just run in the family. Through the power of football, these Polynesian players have each other’s back.

“You know you have another family back over here in Canada. Us Polynesians, when we see each other, we just automatically click. You stick up for each other. It is good to see we have a lot of Poly on the team now,” Teuhema said.

Maea Teuhema and Sione Teuhema during the warmup before preseason action against the Edmonton Elks on May 31. Steven Chang/BC Lions

The league has seen the rise of Sione Teuhema, a defensive end with roots from the island of Tonga, feared by opposing quarterbacks.

Teuhema stormed into the CFL during his debut against the Edmonton Elks in 2022, bringing down the opposing quarterback three times in a convincing 59-15 win, adding more fireworks to an already successful concert kickoff by OneRepublic.

He signed a two-year extension to remain in BC through 2025 at the beginning of this year. Teuhema believes it’s time to shed off wearing number 47. The switch to number zero just makes sense to him.

“I wanted to wear a lower number. I wore 18 in high school. I was skinny, I was built like a receiver. I had 18 through college. After that, that’s when it starts changing in the 40’s,” Teuhema said.

“GP [Garry Peters] wears number one and I tried to get 11 from [Stefan] Flintoft, but zero is pretty cool.”

With the departure of Mathieu Betts to the NFL, Teuhema is now paired up with a new signing of 2024, Pete Robertson, who spent the last three seasons with the Saskatchewan Roughriders and tallied a total of 85 defensive tackles, 21 sacks, one interception and six forced fumbles.

Teuhema and Robertson are both Texas natives, the two defensive ends bonded immediately during training camp, exchanging football knowledge and game planning on how they would attack from the line of scrimmage.

“I never knew Pete before. We talked a little bit on the phone. He’s also from Texas and he’s not far from me. With him being from Texas, I just got a feeling about how he is going to play. As you know, football is like a religion in Texas,” Teuhema added.

A couple Polynesian athletes have found a new home in the CFL. Led by Sione Teuhema, they will bring their spirits onto the field in 2024.

Sione Teuhema (Left) Pete Robertson (Right)

One of the newcomers is defensive lineman, Juliano Falaniko, who calls American Samoa home.

Falaniko, who graduated from the University of Southern California, played five seasons with the Trojans from 2017-2021. He transferred to the University of Idaho with one more season remaining of his collegiate sports eligibility. Falaniko enjoyed his best college season with the Vandals, registering 38 total tackles, two sacks, one pass knockdown and one fumble recovery.

Right after Falaniko finished his collegiate career, he said he went through some rough patches with injuries right before his pro day. Coming to Canada and experiencing football on the other side of the border was a dream come true.

“It’s a blessing to be here and to still be able to play football. And reconnect with a lot of Polynesians here,” Falaniko said.

“Being able to see our people all over this stage doing what we love, it amazes me to see that, and it not only motivates me but a lot of young Polynesian players to get off the island and go to places,” he added.

A couple Polynesian athletes have found a new home in the CFL. Led by Sione Teuhema, they will bring their spirits onto the field in 2024.

After speaking to the Lions front office for over a year and some convincing by his older brother, J.R., Jonah Tavai will spend the next six months pushing his teammates to the best of their ability.

Jonah was born and raised in Los Angeles. He and his six siblings are all first-generation Americans.

Jonah’s mother is from Western Samoa, while his father is from American Samoa.

“They did a lot for us to get to where we’re at right now. I always have to give thanks to them and thank God that he put them in my life,” Tavai said.

Playing football was non-negotiable growing up because being one of the six children in the household, Tavai said it was a way for his mom to keep an eye on all the kids.

“Football was the opportunity we needed. It was definitely my mom’s dream for me and my siblings to be a division one college graduate,” Tavai said.

Jonah spent four seasons at San Diego State playing for the Aztecs and studied business and administration.

Jonah is one of four Tavai brothers who played collegiate football. Jahlani and Justus, both played at the University of Hawai’i, Jahlani is now a member of the New England Patriots. Jordan played at Kansas University and J.R. played at the University of Southern California, who later spent three seasons in the CFL.

The youngest Tavai brothers took one year away from football to reset physically and mentally.

“The break consists of getting my body right to being around a bunch of people that I love — my family. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to play, I just needed to find the right time before coming back earlier,” Tavai said.

With an opportunity to continue his football career that wasn’t going to last forever, which is why Tavai decided to return to the gridiron for the 2024 season.

He’s made it through training camp battles and cuts. Now he just has to apply pressure to ensure the guys ahead are giving their everything at practice each day.

“That’s a big role for practice roster. I’m going to be giving them pressure during Indy. I’m going to do my thing. Keep the defensive tackles in check to make sure they’re at their best. I’m looking forward to this year, we got a bunch of vets that I can learn from so I’m excited to be on this team,” Tavai added.

A couple Polynesian athletes have found a new home in the CFL. Led by Sione Teuhema, they will bring their spirits onto the field in 2024.

Jonah Tavai on the bottom right side of the pile after stopping a short-yardage attempt. Steven Chang/BC Lions