On March 12, San Diego State made history. When they offered Oakie Salave’a a scholarship, the Aztecs became the first Division One program to officially offer a quarterback from American Samoa.
“Usually athletes from here are offered as defensive players, lineman. I’m officially the first QB.” Salave’a explained this week.
On SDSU’s Spring Roster, 62 players hail from California, ten from Nevada, eight from Texas, and five from Hawaii. The rest are scattered among six states, and a Canadian province- defensive Lineman Daniel Okpoko is from Saskatchewan. SDSU hopes to add American Samoa to the list in 2022.
The ever-increasing recruiting footprint reflects a handful of advantages the Aztecs possess. First, San Diego is arguably the best place in the world to live. San Diego boasts the best weather on the planet. Stunning beaches, deserts, forests, lakes, wetlands, and mountains all lie within the 4,526 square miles of San Diego County.
People from around the world want to live in San Diego.
— Craig Smith (@CSMITHOPS) March 18, 2020
The development of SDSU Mission Valley is SDSU’s next advantage. With construction well underway – the former stadium has been taken down to the plaza level, and the foundation of the new stadium has been laid – Aztec Warrior Stadium is on schedule to open in 2022. It will have all the modern amenities and will pump more revenue into the athletic department budget that is already among the highest in the non-autonomous five conferences. The opportunity to christen a new stadium is rare. Recruits are taking notice.
“Oh yeah!” Salave’a said when asked if the new stadium is important in his decision. “That definitely is huge. Especially coming from Samoa and the field conditions we play in. It would be a dream come true.”
Another recruiting edge for SDSU is the family environment they have created within their program. At SDSU’s recent Pro Day, former Aztec Dwayne Johnson said, “I had those little pregame jitters coming in, but it settles down when you get to be with your boys. Getting with Tariq (Thompson), D (Darren) Hall, Kyree (Woods), and Kyahva (Tezino), it’s just like I’m back at home, and we can just play ball.”
Tezino, at the same event, offered a similar sentiment about his time at SDSU, “…Playing with all my brothers is one of the biggest moments I wish I could have back still to this day. I’d give up everything to come back and do that.”
Salave’a has certainly noticed the culture at State, and it is this environment that appeals to him most. “I’m looking for a healthy environment where I am welcomed and able to contribute. A family-oriented environment & I believe SDSU is just that.” The Polynesian Community is one of the strongest in the world, and it is a big part of Salave’a’s college decision. He spoke of leaving a legacy of hard work for those coming behind him and following his uncle’s legacy at SDSU.
His uncle is Aztec Hall of Famer Ed Imo. At Imo’s induction ceremony his sister, Puniloa Imo Filimaua, captured the spirit of the Salave’a family well, “This brother of mine, I tell you, he will never ever know how much this little sister, my dear parents who are back home in American Samoa, his wife, his kids, his grandkids, his brothers, his sisters, his whole family. He will never ever know how proud we are of his accomplishments back then, and his accomplishment especially today.”
The Aztecs’ final recruiting advantage is a huge one: the coaching staff. Salave’a’s lead recruiter, Savai’i Eselu, is SDSU’s tight end coach. Eselu played tight end at Cal from 2007 – 2010. Before coming to SDSU, he was the head coach of Moanalua High School in Honolulu. He typifies the people Brady Hoke has around him on the Mesa.
“He’s just so down to earth,” Salave’a said about Eselu. “So genuine. As another Polynesian, he understands the hardship of coming from a small place and tryna make it out.”
Will these advantages be enough to convince Salave’a to become an Aztec? Only time will tell, but SDSU has already given him an honor he can be proud of for the rest of his life.