- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 18, 2005

His is a job only a daughter could love. Joe Salave’a is one of the dirty workers on the Washington Redskins defense and doesn’t get a lot of attention, something he has accepted with playing tackle.

“If you lose the fight in the pit, your chances of winning are slim and none,” he said.

But when he gets to his Ashburn home, Salave’a’s first child, Katalina, born last December, couldn’t care less.

“She’s coming around on the game,” he said with a laugh. “She was in front of the TV watching the preseason games and my wife [Josephine] was telling me she was so loud reacting to the game.

“For sure, she’s a Redskins fan and I know she’s Daddy’s No.1 fan.”

Salave’a, despite measuring 6-foot-3 and weighing 317 pounds, is easy to miss during Redskins games. Playing in the middle alongside Cornelius Griffin, he attracts blockers with his wide frame, so other players can make the tackles.

The Redskins, who play at Dallas tomorrow night, have won most of the pit battles since Salave’a and Griffin joined the defense. In 17 games they’ve played for Washington, only six opponents have reached 100 yards rushing.

“He’s just one of those tough guys,” defensive end Phillip Daniels said. “He handles the double teams in the middle and gets the tough work done inside. He pushes people around in the middle and makes it easier for us on the outside.”

Salave’a was one of many Redskins to have career years in 2004, when the defense ranked third in the NFL. Through one game, Washington is second in yards allowed.

“We did some things last year not too many people thought we would and that gives us even more reason this year to match it or do better,” Salave’a said. “But we left things on the table last year and I want to do things better this year to help us win more games.”

The fact that Salave’a will be starting for the Redskins on the national stage is part of a journey that started in American Samoa, roughly 5,825 miles from Texas Stadium.

Located in the South Pacific northwest of New Zealand, American Samoa is a string of islands. Salave’a grew up in Eastern Samoa, a series of five volcanic islands that has a population of 65,000.

Salave’a was a high school freshman in 1989 when his parents sent him to California to live with an aunt. Football was a rumor before his move to the mainland — Salave’a’s sport of choice was rugby.

“I think everybody knows which way the scrum is moving when he was playing — in favor of Joe,” Redskins defensive tackle Cedric Killings joked.

Salave’a started playing football as a way to attend college. He had 13 sacks as a prep senior and was signed by Arizona, but he had to sit out his first year because he was a partial academic qualifier.

A possible NFL career didn’t appear on Salave’a’s radar until late in his Arizona career.

In 1996, as a senior, Salave’a played in the Hula Bowl. But because he was on track to graduate in four years, an NCAA rule granted him an extra year of eligibility. He had 11 sacks in 1997 in his “second” senior year, again played in the Hula Bowl (the only player to play the all-star game twice) and earned his degree in sociology with an ethnic studies minor.

“Being in the NFL was not a dream of mine and it wasn’t until the first Hula Bowl that some people told me I might have a chance if I went back for one more year,” Salave’a said. “My intention was, if it works out, it does and if it didn’t, so be it. I knew in my heart that to be successful outside of football, I had to get that degree and after that, I could maybe enjoy the benefits of playing the game.”

A fourth-round draft choice by Tennessee, whose coaching staff included current Redskins assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams, Salave’a played four seasons in a reserve role for the Titans. He tried to find a niche with the Titans but was labeled a tweener because he was playing end and tackle.

Salave’a was released by Tennessee during the 2002 training camp and spent the year out of football. He played nine games for San Diego in 2003 before re-joining Williams with the Redskins. Rotating with Brandon Noble, Salave’a was a rock in the trenches, recording 30 tackles.

Salave’a has used his football career to help kids back home. The Joe Salave’a Foundation was established in 2001 to raise money to support and promote youth programs. The foundation conducted three football camps last summer, one in Hawaii and two in American Samoa.

“This game has given a lot more to me than I’ve given to it,” he said. “I’m blessed that I’ve been able to meet some people to springboard my foundation at home in Samoa and attract a lot of kids.

“Just with the way society is and the different dynamics kids are facing, I felt like I could work in a social setting and I could be hands-on with the kids. Football has allowed me to bridge myself and the community.”

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