American football player, Phillip Paea made such an impression playing the sport at Berrien Springs High School, Michigan, USA, that it led to a formal recruitment with the University of Michigan earlier this month.
The 17-year-old verbally committed to Michigan last April, citing one of the main reasons besides the type of degree offered was being close to his parents and his hometown.
Being family orientated stems from his upbringing in a Tongan culture.
He recalls his experience living in Tonga saying it made a huge impact setting a foundation for him and how he relates to others.
Paea told Landof10 his Tongan parents wanted him to learn about his roots and experience another culture other than the American one so they moved to Tonga when he was seven-years-old.
“It was a very unique experience,” said Paea.
“A very humbling experience, not only to see where my parents came from, but where our people come from. How it is out there, how children are raised. It made me appreciate a lot of things more.
“Growing up here, I was probably a really spoiled kid. Coming back here, it was so eye-opening.”
Paea’s first experience in Tonga was a startling introduction to the Tongan way of life.
While they were in a car travelling to their home where they would live for the next year, a car in front of them hit a pig and stopped traffic. He noticed pigs were free to roam everywhere, apart from the one that was hit.
A family then emerged on the road and went straight to the dead pig. Paea thought they were going to help but instead they carved and quartered the pig to take home.
“I never thought I’d see something like that,” said Paea.
He found Tonga fascinating and a bit scary too.
“They have corporal punishment there, still, in the schools. You’re going to get hit no matter what. If you answer a problem wrong, you get hit with a ruler. Anything falls under that.”
But Paea learned that family and togetherness is very important in the Tongan culture. He noticed families getting together to watch movies every Thursday and strangers were invited into homes on Saturdays to eat, converse, play card games and build community.
Spending a year in Tonga taught him how to treat others and to value gratitude.
That was 10 years ago and Paea still holds on to those values. His high school football coach, Tony Scaccia said Paea “always talks about that time as being a very organic experience for him,”
“Everyone cares about everybody, and that was a big takeaway for him. Here, he’s someone who genuinely cares about his school, about his coaches, about his family, and while I know he hasn’t been there in so long, I know he holds on to so much of that.”
His family stated on Paea’s University of Michigan profile page that they raised him “with the values given to us by our parents before us and the culture that we hold so closely to our foundations as a family. He is a good man first; before a student and before an athlete.”
Paea graduates from Berrien Springs High School, Michigan in June. Although he had other university offers from Notre Dame, USC, Miami, Brigham Young, Michigan State and Nebraska, he will start with the University of Michigan later this year.
Paea is now 6-foot-4, weighs around 280 pounds, and ranked as the nation’s No. 38 defensive tackle by 247Sports.
He already has a list of honours and rankings recorded with the University of Michigan including playing in the inaugural Polynesian Bowl on 22 January this year in Hawaii, listed on the 2015 and 2016 Detroit News All-State Dream Team and ranked in four sports media sites.
Source: Matangi Tonga