Ex-Wildcats DT Joe Salave'a selected for Polynesian Football Hall of Fame

Joe Salave'a while coaching at Washington State.Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Dick Tomey: 'He played with tremendous passion'

Former Arizona Wildcats defensive tackle Joe Salave'a is headed to the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame.

The Samoan-born Salave'a is one of four members of the Class of 2019, along with Dan Saleaumua, Lofa Tatupu and Marques Tuiasosopo, it was announced Wednesday.

Salave'a was a stalwart in the middle of Arizona's defensive line from 1994 to 1997. He led the Wildcats in sacks and tackles for loss in each of his final two seasons. He had 29 tackles for loss in just those two season, and his 21.5 career sacks rank ninth in school history.

He was honorable mention All-Pac-10 in 1995, second-team all-league in 1996 and a first-team selection as a senior in 1997.

"He had a motor and a way of playing," coach Dick Tomey told me in 2013. "The group that he played with, we had a lot of guys like that. He fit right in. He played with tremendous passion."

Salave'a, selected in the fourth round of the 1998 draft by the Tennessee Titans, had a nine-year NFL career. He also founded the Joe Salave'a Foundation in 2001, offering free football instruction to youngsters in American Samoa and Hawaii.

Tomey gave Salave'a his first job in coaching, hiring him at San Jose State in 2008.

"In the course of my NFL career, I was doing my own camps through my foundation," Salave'a said. "It was an easy transition as far as working with young people, but I wasn't really sure that coaching was where I was going until Coach Tomey gave me the opportunity to go up there.

"I fell in love with the kids, and, of course, with Coach Tomey, you're coming full circle and have a chance to pay it forward. It was great. ... The experience of being mentored under him for two years was awesome. I wouldn't trade it for anything."

Mike Stoops hired Salave'a to coach Arizona's defensive line in 2010. At that time, I asked UA defensive tackle Lolomana Mikaele if Salave'a was well-known in the Polynesian community.

"Yes, he is ... yes, he is," Mikaele said.

"In the Polynesian community, everyone follows each other, especially if they're doing good. Coach Joe, I had heard of him since I was in Hawaii. I knew who he was, and I had seen him play before. I know he's all about work, man."

Salave'a was not retained on the Arizona staff when head coach Rich Rodriguez came on board after the 2011 season, but Salave'a has gone on to earn accolades as a defensive line coach and recruiter at Washington State and now Oregon, which plays the Wildcats on Saturday night at Arizona Stadium.

Salave'a and the three others were selected for the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame from a group of 12 finalists that included former Arizona offensive lineman Edwin Mulitalo.

As a college player, Salave'a did something that almost assuredly will never happen again.

Salave'a played in the East-West Shrine Game and the Hula Bowl after the 1996 season and was preparing for the NFL when the NCAA passed legislation that allowed another season of eligibility to initial partial qualifiers, such as Salave'a, provided they graduated in four years.

After several weeks of pondering his future, Salave'a came back for his second senior year and then became a two-time participant in each of those postseason All-Star Games for seniors.

Tomey was so appreciative of Salave'a's decision to return that he flew with the defensive tackle to Samoa during spring break in 1997 to thank his parents in person for their support.

Tomey is the chairman of the selection committee for the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame. The 2019 class will be honored during the weekend of January 18 and 19, coinciding with the Polynesian Bowl.

The Polynesian Football Hall of Fame inducted its inaugural class in 2014.