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Several football stars and budding stars showed up at the USA 7s this weekend to support a game they love.
Pittsburgh Steelers star Troy Polamalu made a low-key visit, and several other football players, including Paul Soliaia, were there.
Soliai, who plays for the Miami Dolphins, was there to see the rugby and talk about his charity, the Paul Soliai Foundation, which is dedicated to providing opportunities for American Samoan kids.
“It’s for all students, not just athletes,” Soliai told RUGBYMag.com. “It’s important for American Samoan kids to know the opportunities, especially the educational opportunities that are out there.”
Soliai was thrilled to see the rugby, showing up early to watch the High School and U19 games during the Las Vegas Invitational, and singing hundreds of autographs.
“I have so much respect for rugby players,” said Soliai, who played rugby when he was younger. “It takes a lot of work and dedication. I know top rugby players deserve to be paid more than they are. I am a big rugby fan, and I hope with what we do we can get more American Samoan kids on the US rugby team.”
Also at the USA 7s was Simione Vehikite, who is a redshirt sophomore with the USC football program. On scholarship for football, Vehikite played football and rugby at Kapolei High School on Maui in Hawaii.
“I love rugby, man,” he said. “It’s a great sport and I’m excited to be here.”
Vehikite is one of a growing number of young athletes who are playing DI football, but have a rugby background. Their return to rugby after college could raise the level of athleticism in the game.