Lined up off the end or at linebacker this season, Samu Vave looks like a seasoned veteran and upperclassman on Manatee High’s football team.
The reality is the 6-foot-2, 220-pounder is only a sophomore playing his first year of football.
Of course, football runs through his veins. He has cousins in the NFL.
Yet, Vave, who was born in Tonga in the South Pacific, played rugby until his family relocated to Bradenton during his freshman year. That’s when the transition to football began.
“He’s a natural athlete,” Manatee High head coach Yusuf Shakir said. “He has some natural skills and things, so he’s just getting better and better at his fundamentals and small things and really understanding the game.”
Shakir knew of Vave’s family from his time as head coach at St. Petersburg Gibbs because Vave’s cousin, William Latu, played there.
Vave left Tonga for Hawaii at age 5. He briefly lived in Utah with his cousin, Harvey Langi, who plays for the New York Jets, before moving back to Hawaii and then to Florida, where Vave’s aunt was living.
Vave had a cousin, Joseph Lui, already with the Hurricanes, so the adjustment to a new school wasn’t as difficult as it could have been.
The real challenge came to his breathing.
“It was hard for me to breathe when I first got here,” Vave said. “The temperature was just up and down. I just kept pushing myself to work harder.”
Florida’s humidity presented a hurdle he wasn’t used to with Hawaii’s tropical weather, which Vave described as either breezy or cloudy and not heat, heat, heat as it is in the Sunshine State.
Vave said the reason his family moved to Florida was to say goodbye to his grandmother, who had cancer. When she died, she was sent to Hawaii to be buried next to his grandfather.
Vave also lost his father to a stroke in 2014.
“That was hard,” Vave said. “I didn’t feel like going to school ... I just did nothing.”
Added Shakir: “Any time you lose a parent, no matter what age, that’s tough to deal with. On top of that, him having to move and having to adjust to a whole new culture, whole new society, whole new school, just a lot really going on.
“A lot of time people don’t understand really what kids go through, so for him to just kind of be here and go through things, it really says a lot about his resiliency as a person.”
Vave, though, worked through the grief and was at Kahuka High School before relocating to Bradenton and enrolling at Manatee with zero football experience.
“He’s a big athletic kid and he’s just now growing into his body,” Shakir said. “... He’s just scratching the surface.”
Now he’s a young piece on a Hurricanes team aiming for a deep playoff run in Class 7A.
Manatee opens the 7A playoffs against Largo Pinellas Park at home on Friday night as the No. 3 seed in Region 3.
This week’s schedule
Class 7A-Region 3 quarterfinals
Largo Pinellas Park at Manatee, 7:30 p.m.
Class 6A-Region 3 quarterfinals
Braden River at Palmetto, 7:30 p.m.
Sunshine State Athletic Conference semifinals
Oviedo Master’s Academy at Saint Stephen’s, 7 p.m.