MIAMI DOLPHINS’ SOLIAI GIVES BACK TO UTES, WHO GOT HIM OFF ‘THE ROCK’
Davie, FLORIDA — There are said to be only two ways to get off "The Rock," and Paul Soliai was ready to take his less favored one.
The opportunities to get away from American Samoa, remote volcanic islands in the South Pacific, after high school graduation are limited.
"We call it ‘The Rock,’" Soliai said. "If you want to get off it, you either join the [U.S.] Army or you get a scholarship to go to college. I was going to join the Army."
That was Soliai’s plan in 2002 during his senior year at Nuuli Technical in Pago Pago. Soliai, who played football and volleyball for the school, didn’t have any scholarship offers, so he took the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery in preparation to join the Army.
But the University of Utah stepped up just before graduation. Soliai was offered a scholarship to play football for the Utes.
It turned out that Soliai didn’t have the grades to play immediately. But the Utes sent him to Coffeyville (Kan.) Junior College and vowed to stand by him. It was a promise the university kept when he enrolled at Utah in 2004.
"Hardly any schools were looking at me," Soliai said. "I figured my football career was over, but Utah gave me an opportunity."
Soliai, who is in his seventh year as a top-notch defensive tackle for the Miami Dolphins, hasn’t forgotten that. The 29-year-old recently donated $250,000 to his alma mater to help fund a player recreation area at the school’s new football center. It will be known as the Paul and LeTasha Soliai Player Lounge — named after him and his wife — in the newly-opened Eccles Football Center.
"I wanted to show my appreciation to them," Soliai said at Dolphins training camp. "If not for them, I wouldn’t be where I am now. I’d probably be in the Army, so I wanted to give back.
"I told my wife the whole story [about Utah offering a scholarship), and she said, ‘They deserve it.’ When I told how much I was giving, she said, ‘You’re giving how much?’ But she liked it that I put her name on it."
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