Gridiron player Samuel Alefaio has scored his biggest touchdown yet.
The 1.98 metre, 145kg gentle giant has turned the tables on schoolyard bullies who made his childhood miserable because of his size by landing a full scholarship to play gridiron for Arizona Western College in the United States.
"It's going to be a whole new experience," the 20- year-old said.
The Otara resident, who will slot into the defensive ranks, is training three times a day, emulating NFL hero Troy Polamalu, to toughen up for the sport.
"For me it's going to be a big discipline thing. The biggest challenge will be getting used to the pace of football over there - it's a big step up from here."
Alefaio has only played gridiron for four seasons, one with the South Auckland Raiders and the past three with the Papatoetoe Wildcats.
His uncle Timo Alefaio said his nephew knew what he wanted - even when he was being chased by Sydney rugby league club the Penrith Panthers.
"I've spoken at length with Sam and he's shared with me his love and passion for the game and he acknowledges he has a lot to learn."
But Alefaio is used to challenging circumstances.
He is the second of four children, and had to step up when his father, champion weightlighter Malo Maoluma Alefaio, died of cancer last September.
"Dad was a competitive weightlifter and if he was here right now he'd be saying to me 'never sell yourself short' and 'always work hard'," Alefaio said.
His signing has left little time for his family to get him to the US to start the spring semester in January.
Alefaio's scholarship covers his accommodation, studies and gridiron training as well as a personal tutor.
"It's the airfares to get him there... and then we've found hidden costs and that he has to pay his own medical insurance, up to NZ$2700 each semester," his mother Sally said.
She will travel to the US with her son to help him settle in, as will his mentor Dan Amosa. It will also be his first time on a plane.
"I can get pretty nervous sometimes, don't let the size fool you," Alefaio said.
Amosa predicts New Zealand will be "the next port of call" for US scouts "looking for that next big thing".
"This is a viable career pathway for some of these guys. If they're good enough, they can be student athletes on full scholarships and that's the biggest ticket, coming back with something for the rest of their lives."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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