PROVO — The first time Brandon Doman visited American Samoa — eight years ago — he and his wife were picking up their adopted son, a baby boy named Isaac Siaosi.
It was an unforgettable, emotional, and joyful experience for the Doman family. That was not long before Doman joined coach Bronco Mendenhall's staff at BYU.
Eight years later, in May, Doman returned to the island as the Cougars' offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. And this time, it was a business trip.
"I went by myself," Doman said. "This was strictly BYU football recruiting."
The four-day whirlwind visit, beginning with a 12-hour flight covering more than 5,000 miles, marked the first time a Cougar football coach had made an official recruiting trip to American Samoa in many years.
Coach Bronco Mendenhall and his staff are looking for talented players in American Samoa, and looking to strengthen the Polynesian Pipeline that has bolstered the Cougar football program for decades, dating back to the 1960s.
"For BYU, coming on the island to recruit is only a natural thing for us to do. Our roots and our foundation of Polynesian culture has been here for years and years at BYU," Doman said. "We have 37 Polynesian kids on our team, more than anybody in the country. It had been a few years since we had been (to American Samoa). It was very important that we return to the island. There are fans, alumni and former players on that Island that are supportive of BYU football and BYU in general. If there's ever a place of great resource in the Polynesian community, that is the place. That was the reason for the trip out there. Hopefully we'll find a handful of kids over the next few years that will come here to BYU."
American Samoa — an unincorporated territory of the United States located in the South Pacific Ocean — is crazy about football, Doman said.
"They play every day. The kids are walking to school in helmets and shoulder pads. When school's over at 3 o'clock, they practice football. It's an amazing thing. I don't know what rules and regulations they have over there. It's full-padded practice. It's a big deal."
The island is just 54 square miles and has a population of about 67,000. Doman told the people there that almost all of the residents in American Samoa could fit inside LaVell Edwards Stadium.
Despite its small size, American Samoa has sent a steady stream of players to colleges around the country and some of those players have landed in the NFL, including Troy Polamalu, Toniu Fonoti and Anton Palepoi.
"Last year, they sent 26 kids off the island to either Division I-AA, Division II or junior colleges," Doman said. "They probably had five Division I kids. There are only seven high schools out there. But between those schools, over 30 kids went off the island to play football.
"There were kids I was aware of that I was heading out to see," Doman continued. "But there are some kids that signed last year that were pretty good players that we never really got in the mix with. In hindsight, you look at who they were and how talented they were and it probably would have been nice to be in the mix with them."
Former Cougars that hail from American Samoa include Spencer and Gabriel Reid, Shaun Nua and Ifo Pili. The family of one BYU signee, linebacker Toloa'i Ho'Ching, who is currently serving a mission, is also from American Samoa, according to Doman.
"The (LDS) Church is so strong over there," Doman said. "About one-third of the people are members of the Church. For moms and dads, for their kid to play football and go off the island to get a degree and an education is important. Football is a vehicle for those kids, quite frankly, to get off the island and get a college education. They don't have many other avenues.
"I think football is one of their top three vehicles to get those kids an education."
That explains why Doman was treated like royalty when he visited American Samoa.
One of Doman's hosts while visiting the island was Kalilimoku Hunt, a former BYU football player who serves as the LDS Church's director of public affairs in American Samoa.
"We set up a whole itinerary for him," Hunt said. "Every hour was set up while he was here. He had very little time to himself. We took good care of him while he was here."
When Doman arrived at the Pago Pago International Airport, Hunt presented him with the traditional flower lei and took him to the Trade Winds Hotel.
Joined by Valosia Talataina, a representative of the American Samoa Department of Education, Doman visited a number of high schools to meet with coaches and players.
Doman also granted numerous interviews to radio and television stations and newspapers. "He was here when (former NFL star Junior) Seau died," Hunt said. "He had known Seau and made some comments about his passing."
During his time in American Samoa, Doman not only represented BYU, but also the LDS Church. He was the featured speaker at two LDS firesides.
"We had almost 1,000 people come and see him at that first fireside," Hunt said. "We kept him busy, and he was well-received. Brandon enjoyed the people. The people seem to have a natural rapport with him."
"Man, they worked me. I got out there and they had a schedule set up. It was a productive, good visit," Doman recalled. "They never left my side the whole time I was there. It was pretty cool. It was four jam-packed days of visiting high schools and doing firesides in the evenings. It was an exhausting trip.
"When I initially set the trip to fly out there, we had to get approval through the athletic department and ultimately through the Church. Next thing I know, I'm doing a couple of firesides out there. I was escorted for four days straight by some great people. They certainly treated me with great hospitality and great respect and honor. There are a lot of people who are tied to this university out there."
Other schools, particularly from the West Coast, like Washington State and Oregon State, recruit American Samoa on a fairly regular basis, Hunt said. UCLA and USC recruit most of their Samoan players at high schools or junior colleges in California and Hawaii.
In the weeks after Doman left the island, Arizona assistant Robert Anae — a former BYU player and coach — and assistant coaches from Oregon State and the University of Utah also took recruiting trips to American Samoa.
The biggest obstacle keeping American Samoan players out of BYU is academics, Doman said.
"The number one challenge on the island is the obvious — it's the standardized test, the ACT and SAT, with English being a second language for these kids," Doman explained. "The curriculum in the school ensuring that they're prepared to take these tests and prepared for the curriculum in the U.S. Because of some of the barriers, the tests become a real difficult challenge for them. They're improving every day. They're doing fairly well in school. Hopefully we'll be bringing kids from the island to play here."
Doman doesn't know if BYU will sign any players from American Samoa this year, but the future looks promising.
"I saw several freshmen and sophomores and kids coming up — I saw plenty of football players over there," he said. "There's not a shortage of talent. It's making sure that they qualify."
"Brandon was very much impressed with our talent, skill and the size of our students here," Hunt said. "The only thing he was concerned about was the academic portion. We have some people that are working on that now, helping them with the NCAA clearinghouse. BYU's GPA requirement is so high, it may be difficult for them to attain that."
Some of those players, if they don't qualify, could attend a junior college and eventually transfer to BYU.
Certainly, Cougar coaches are determined to ensure that the Polynesian Pipeline continues in Provo.
"When people look at the Polynesian Islands, and how these people became such football-driven people, it traces itself to BYU," Doman said. "I, coach Mendenhall, all of us on the coaching staff, recognize the importance of them to our football program and the value they bring to our football team, and to their families. It's as strong as it's ever been right now. We just hope to continue to make it stronger and stronger. That's another reason why we were out there. This Polynesian culture is paramount for BYU football. And we're grateful for it."
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