Big 12 Campus Correspondent
Two of them are returning starters; two are new to the program.
Two play linebacker, two are on the offensive line.
One’s father is a former professional wrestler, two are the youngest children of large families.
For four Kansas State football players, what makes them different also brings them together.Hansen Sekona, Ulla Pomele, Alesana Alesana and Penisini Liu are the Wildcats' South Pacific connection.
All are far from home, but have found common ground in the Little Apple, thanks in part to their Polynesian heritage.
“Our culture is very family oriented and regardless of where you are you are family,” said Sekona, junior who starts at inside linebacker.
All agree they’ve found a family atmosphere in Manhattan.
“I had no clue what to expect coming out here,” Pomele, who like Sekona is a junior starter at inside linebacker, said of Manhattan. “When I came on my recruiting trip, one of the things I really noticed was the people and how embracing they were. They were really great.”
For each, the journey to the Midwest has been different. That journey has helped shape them all as players and as individuals.
“My mother and my father were both hard working and they wanted to give everything they could to their kids,” Liu said, who is the youngest of five children including four older sisters.
His father was also a professional wrestler in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Liu (his full name is pronounced BEN-es-ee-nee LOO), is a backup right offensive tackle for the Wildcats. Alesana (pronounced ah-luh-SAN-uh) is the backup at left offensive tackle.
“My parents wanted to do everything they could to give us a good life and put food on the table. My mother started working when she was 14 years old and has been working ever since,” Liu said. “Seeing them go to work every day really motivated me to stay in school, work hard, and pursue football. It motivated me to work hard too.”
Sekona (pronounced: Suh-CONE-uh) believes the lessons learned have helped him strive to be a role model.
“I’m the youngest of ten and we have two more who were adopted after I was, so all together there are twelve of us,” he said. “Being the youngest in a family that size was tough. I didn’t have positive role models growing up and I wanted to break that trend, so I have really been trying to look after my little nieces and nephews and be a positive role model for them.”
Moving to the next level following the completion of their junior college careers may have seemed like the natural next step, but it was also a leap of faith. It was an opportunity to try something new and the chance to continue playing the game they love.
“My faith in God has definitely helped me a lot playing football,” said Pomele. “It’s the main reason I play.”
Pomele (full name pronunciation: OOH-la Puh-MELL-EE) attributes his faith and the support from his family has helped him make the transition from his hometown of Santa Rosa, Calif., to Manhattan. He also saw the move to Manhattan as a chance for new experiences.
“I was getting married, I thought it would be a good thing to move, to step out of our comfort zone and move out here to the Midwest,” he said.
Each makes a contribution on the field but the South Pacific Connection is also bringing the values of the Polynesian culture to the program.
“One of the things coach Prince said when he talked to me was about trying to build a Polynesian foundation,” Sekona said. “I decided to go with it and I got here with (former Wildcat) Moses Manu and now I’m here with Ulla.”
The connection they have with one another has also helped them feel more at home in Manhattan.
“I came out on the visit and saw how professional everyone was,” Sekona said. “I met Moses Manu and talked to him and to Alesana (Alesana) when he came out on his visit and decided that this would be the best place for me to continue my career and to bring my kids in with me.”
While their backgrounds may be diverse, their Polynesian heritage unites them.
“As far as my cultural heritage goes, we take care of each other,” Pomele said. “Caring for each other and respecting each other and loving each other is a big part of who we are.”
All have found similar values present at KSU.
“At first I thought I would be homesick,” Sekona said. “The people here, they embrace you with open arms and they are very friendly. There are good people out here.”
The warm embrace of the K-State community wasn’t the only thing they saw and liked about the program.
“I thought it (K-State) would be somewhat like junior college, but it wasn’t at all,” Liu said. “I got here and I wasn’t sure what was expected of me until I went to camp last year and started going to all the meetings. Just seeing everyone handling themselves in the meetings, at practice and with the media really opened my eyes and showed me that they were doing good things here at K-State.
“I looked around at the leaders we had last year like Jordy Nelson and Ian (Campbell), I looked at what they were doing and I looked at myself and said, ‘I can do this.’ I started doing it and being a leader and good things really started happening for me.”
Regardless of their various backgrounds, the road each took to get to Manhattan, or how many downs they play on the field, one thing is certain — their ultimate goal is the same.
“I want to win games, to go to a bowl, to win the Big 12,” Liu said.” We’ve got a lot of good recruits and I really think this is the year we’re going to break out. We have a lot of leadership and a lot of seniors back and we’re more experienced. I’m coming in to do my part and as a team we have to get our job done to have success.”