Nov. 11, 2009
This story first appeared in the football gameday magazine Kickoff, Nov. 7, 2009
Cal senior Tyson Alualu is a strong man.
His strength on the field is obvious -- just ask any opposing offensive lineman that he's moved out of the way on his path to some of the most impressive numbers posted by a defensive lineman in Cal history. Opposing quarterbacks and running backs who have been smashed to the ground by the 6-3, 290-pounder would certainly agree.
His skills make most NFL teams eager to acquire his services when he becomes available in the NFL Draft next April. Although Alualu looks forward to that day next spring when he learns where his new home will be, the one he's made for himself at Cal is going to be difficult to leave.
It hasn't always been that way. In fact, there was a time when all Alualu could think about was leaving.
"I got really homesick," remembered Alualu, who is one of nine children raised in a Polynesian culture that centers on family. "I just wanted to be with my family. Anything that would happen to me here I would use as an excuse to want to go back home."
And he did just that.
After a standout prep career at St. Louis High School in Honolulu, Alualu came to Cal in the summer of 2005 as a highly coveted recruit but didn't stay long. Shortly after attending the school's summer bridge program, he decided to go back home to Hawaii. He spent the fall back in his home state, but decided to give Cal another shot and returned to enroll in school the following January.
He didn't come back alone. This time, he brought a big part of home back with him.
Alualu's wife, Desiré, had given birth to the couple's son, Tyreé, two months earlier and the young family returned to the mainland together.
It would be easy to think that a 19-year-old student-athlete with the added responsibilities of marriage and fatherhood might have a tough time making a go of it, especially when he was thousands of miles away from home and even farther away from the culture he enjoyed so much.
Just the opposite proved to be the case.
Alualu admits that his affection for the school he now loves and will soon miss grew gradually during the first few months of his return, but his impact on the field was immediate.
In 2006, his first year with the Bears, he played in all 13 games and even picked up his first career start. In the three seasons since, he has started all 33 games and been named by his teammates as Cal's top defensive lineman each of the past two years. If the first eight games of the 2009 campaign are any indication, he will make it a three-peat.
"There is now doubt that Tyson is one of the very best players in the Pac-10," said head coach Jeff Tedford. "He is a guy that plays snap to whistle. He can run and is physical."
The list of people Alualu thanks for helping him to find the strength to be successful at Cal is long, but he begins with God and is also quick to point out his immediate family, the Polynesian players on the team and his entire Cal football family.
"In our culture, we put God first and then family comes right after that," said Alualu, who sports black strips under his eyes during games that read "God First".
He quoted his favorite Bible verse -- Philippians 4:13: I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me-- when asked where he gets the strength to be one of the nation's best football players, a Cal student, a loving husband and devoted father.
"That scripture can translate to the field," emphasized Alualu. "I can have no energy left during a game, but can look up and say, `God, give me the strength.' I know he can give me the strength to give it my all and make that one more play. I definitely feel the difference. If you really trust in Him, you feel refreshed, you feel new. A lot of scriptures in the Bible relate to being on the field. That's where I get my strength."
The strength his family provides is also critical in his life.
Now a family of four with the addition of daughter Deréon in July of 2008, the family lives in Cal's University Village in Albany. Desiré has been a stay-at-home mom for much of her husband's time in Berkeley, but is now back on the career track as a nursing student at Western Career College in Emeryville thanks to the help of her sister, Tita Pomele, who has moved to the Bay Area and assists in the care of Tyreé and Deréon.
"I give props to my wife for what she does," said a proud Alualu with a big smile. "She was held back with her own stuff for a while with the kids, but now she's back doing what she's always wanted to do. I'm really proud of her. She's getting straight A's."
Having his own family around makes his success at Cal that much sweeter.
"It's really special after the game, when you have just given everything you've got on the field, that win or lose you can enjoy spending time with them," said Alualu. "They come down to the field and my son will run around a little bit. Just having them here to support me is really special."
Now, he finds himself savoring his last several weeks as a Cal football player.
"With the little time I have left here, I want to enjoy every day and have no regrets when I leave," said Alualu. "I love this place so much -- my teammates, my fellow defensive linemen and all the other great people I've met. I wish I had more years to come, but this is my last one, and I'm really going to miss it."
But the NFL prospect and 22-year-old family man who is mature beyond his years has so much more to look forward to in the future.
"I feel like I have to take care of the little things, and the big things will take care of themselves," analyzed a cautiously optimistic Alualu when asked about his football future. "I don't want to get ahead of myself, thinking about the NFL Combine or the Draft, and then mess up right now and not produce. But at the same time, I do think of the big picture. I've got to work hard to reach my goal. Hopefully, I can give my family a better life if I succeed in my dream of playing in the NFL."
Still, life is pretty good right now and Alualu certainly appreciates what he has.
"It's awesome," Alualu said as he lights up when talking about his family. "I enjoy being with my wife and having two kids, and at the same time going to college. It just gives me extra motivation to reach my goal to play at the next level."
The spiritual Alualu has much bigger goals for himself and his family than the earthly riches of the NFL. "I want to do the same thing my father did for me," explained Alualu, whose father, Ta'avao, is a pastor at Solid Rock Christian Fellowship Church in Honolulu. "In the Bible, it says, `Train a child the way he should grow, so that when he does grow up, he'll never depart from it.' I strongly believe that's what happened to me and that's what I want to do for my kids."
Every child should be so lucky to have such a strong dad.