Polamalu a One-man Wrecking Crew for Trojans

Nov. 15, 2001

AP Sports Writer

LOS ANGELES - Sometimes it seems there's a whole group of SouthernCalifornia Trojans wearing No. 43, blocking punts, returning interceptionsfor touchdowns, forcing fumbles, smacking punt returners to the ground.

Actually, there's only one - Troy Polamalu, playing 'Fa'a Samoan' style.That roughly translates, he says, to being a gentleman everywhere but on thefootball field.

While USC is only 5-5 and needs a victory over No. 20 UCLA on Saturday to beeligible for a bowl berth, Polamalu truly has been a star for the Trojans.

The junior strong safety and special teams leader has made 96 tackles,second in the Pac-10, with 10 for losses. He's returned two interceptionsfor touchdowns, forced two fumbles, blocked two punts and generally is allover the field.

'He's such a fantastic player,' USC coach Pete Carroll said, likeningPolamalu to players he's coached in the NFL.

'I have coached some of the best safeties around and Troy's as good as allthe guys I have coached,' Carroll said. 'He is creative, fast, tough andinstinctive. He has a great heart, which all great players have.'

Trojans quarterback Carson Palmer regards his teammate as simply the bestplayer in the Pac-10, saying, 'He's the complete package.'

Polamalu, deeply religious and uncommonly humble, downplays hisaccomplishments, crediting the coaching staff with using him in the rightplaces at the right times.

'They have put me in position where I can make plays, they put me where Ican do nothing but,' he said. 'A lot of people say, `Wow, you get a lot oftackles, you're doing this, you're doing that.' But they don't understandit's the whole makeup of our defense.

'I think you could put any other safety in the Pac-10 in there and theywould do as well or better.'

Polamalu, who was born in Garden Grove, Calif., and was a three-sport starat Douglas High after moving to Winston, Ore., explained his Samoan approachto the game: 'On the field, play it like a game of life, give it everythingyou have.'

'It's my background, being raised Fa'a Samoan,' he said. 'Being raised witha Christian background, I like to go out there and not only have fun whileplaying for God, but also having that intensity that Samoans have.

'There's a fine line, you don't go crazy and start killing people.'

Several of his relatives also have been successful players, including uncleKennedy Pola, a former USC fullback who's now the Trojans' special teamscoordinator, uncle Al Pola, who played at Penn State, and cousin NickySualua, who played at Ohio State and for Dallas and Cincinnati in the NFL.

'I think I had the love of football instilled in me,' Polamalu said. 'Iwatched my uncles and cousins play all the time. I think I was born with afootball in my hands.'

A recap of the Trojans' season reads a bit like a highlight film forPolamalu.

Even in their five losses, he put up impressive numbers. He had 13 tackles,2{ for losses, against Kansas State, logged 10 tackles and blocked a puntagainst Stanford, had 13 tackles, two for losses, and returned a punt for aTD against Washington, and had 11 tackles and recovered a fumble to set up ascore against Notre Dame.

The 5-foot-10, 210-pounder had perhaps his best game in a 16-13 overtime winover Oregon State on Nov. 3. He had 11 tackles, two for losses, deflectedtwo passes, forced a fumble and blocked a punt that USC recovered for atouchdown.

Among those he's impressed is the coach who'll be on the other sideline forSaturday's game at the Los Angeles Coliseum - UCLA's Bob Toledo.

'I think he's a great football player. He's all over the field, he makesplays,' Toledo said. 'You'd better account for him because he's going to bearound the football all the time.'

Now on Pac-12 Network
7:30 AM PT

Airing on:

  • Pac-12 Network
Get Pac-12 Networks
Pac-12 Networks Channel Finder