What makes a football player great?
For years, experts have been trying to qualify that answer by holding rookie combines, crafting scouting reports and reviewing hours of game tape only to come up with numbers that, at the end of the day, still don't really help us understand what type of player we're getting.
But what if what they're missing is as simple as where that player comes from?
What if I told you that a tiny island in the middle of the South Pacific, with the population of 65,000 people (which is less than the capacity of most NFL stadiums), was the most important breeding ground for some of the best talent in the National Football League?
Samoa -- or "Football Island" as it's often referred to -- is one of a handful of Polynesian islands that produces dozens of professional football players every year. But it's not just the sheer amount of players, both retired and currently active in the NFL, that impresses coaches, fans and teammates alike (there are close to 40 active players of Samoan descent today).
It's the warrior-like intensity they display every time they step onto the field. It's how they channel all of that strength and energy into the game, but can be such gentle and loving people off it. To put it simply, they play the game the way it's supposed to be played: with supreme toughness.
While Samoans and Tongans make up a majority of Polynesian players in the NFL, they're mostly identifiable with long-flowing manes and traditional Maori tattoos that are something like battle stripes.
But to really sum it all up, Ravens All-Pro defensive tackle Haloti Ngata's father, Haloti Moala (who's of Tongan ancestry), said it the best during an interview leading up to Super Bowl XLVII with USA Today.
Polynesian players are built for combat, built for football — big, strong, fast.
But we know that it's much more than that. To be a great player in this game, and an even better man away from it, takes a certain strength that you'll consistently find within this special group of people. It's a cultural mindset that's been passed down from generation to generation, with values that teaches respect, love and passion for everything they do.
Why are Pacific islanders so big?
There is no legitimate explanation for this, but many believe that generations of farming and strenuous labor required by all males of the family might give us a little more insight as to why these behemoths of athletes exist.
Pacific Islanders are just born big-boned and have frames perfect for any NFL position, especially for linemen down in the trenches.
One theory in physical anthropology is that through ancestral evolution, Polynesians were forced to adapt to cold weather at one stage of their history.
People in cold climates tend to develop larger, lean bodies to store more fat, which would, of course, be a contrast to the warmer tropical environments they live in today. But considering that all Polynesians migrated to islands and were known as extraordinary travelers, this could be where the answer lies.
Other findings show that the Samoan obesity epidemic starts at birth. According to a study conducted by Brown University, weight gain drastically increases 23 percent more in a Samoan boy than the average male American child within the first 15 months of life. This, however, is not confined to just the Samoan populations. Many experts believe that this rise in childhood obesity foreshadows a trend that we can see in the United States.
Bringing football back to its real roots.
The most common trait shared between all Polynesian football players is their physical style of play and ability to react with instincts, instead of relying on brute strength or top-line speed.
Moala stressed that this is something that all of them were born to do. It comes from a history of fighting and strife, which they've been able to harness and make a living out of it.
We love contact. That's been the history of our people. The warrior spirit is within us.
While Samoans and Tongans are among some of the fastest and strongest, just take a look at an athlete like Troy Polamalu, safety of the Pittsburgh Steelers. He's never solely relied on any one of his physical attributes alone, yet has made a career, and won Super Bowls, because of his tenacity on the field. Even his approach to the game is old school.
During his training for the season, Polamalu refuses to touch any heavy weights and relies mostly on training in the sports lab where he uses special stretches to improve range of movement and swimming to build his stamina. And if you wonder where he gets this unorthodox approach to the game, he reiterates the same message of values that are ingrained within him and his people.
In an article stressing why Americans should be concerned with the economic plight of American Samoa, he stressed what he knows to be true.
All of my Polynesian counterparts in the NFL with roots in American Samoa understand how the values embedded in our South Pacific culture -- community, hard work, perseverance, respect -- contribute directly to our success.
Why their future is brighter than ever.
The pipeline of Polynesian players will only continue to improve in the coming years, both in quantity and quality.
Consider this: Youth football wasn't even initiated in Samoa until 2011. That means freshman year of high school used to be the first form of organized football players were allowed to participate in.
And because of the economic plight on the island of Samoa, much of the field and equipment used by athletes would never pass standards in the states. However, with more attention and investment in recent years, it's time for the pure talent to be cultivated, which means two things for the people: an education in America and the chance to break into the NFL to support their families.
For one of the most impoverished communities in the world, this is the ultimate opportunity and is what so many of the local kids fight towards.
But the talent extends closer to the United States as well. One player who's getting us excited for the future of Polynesian players is Heisman Trophy candidate and Hawaii-native, Marcus Mariota, who is the quarterback for the #2 Oregon Ducks.
If he were to walk away with the prestigious accolade, he would become the first Pacific islander to do so, and would pave the way for more just like him. His talent translates into the pros, too, and he is even the number one rated quarterback heading into the NFL draft come 2015.
Just watching his highlight tape alone shows you that he's truly a special talent and his humble attitude is what we've come to expect from kids who grew up like him.
As the number of Polynesian players continues to increase over the next few years, more awareness will be raised about their communities and the light that they deserve will finally be shined on them.
For one of the most intriguing, yet seemingly untapped communities in the world, football is exactly what they needed. And the truth is, football needs them too.
Top Photo Credit: Getty Images