Faifili brings positive vibes
By GEOFFREY CALVERT
LAWRENCE -- Life is good these days for Kansas linebacker Samson Faifili.
He started his first game for the Jayhawks last Saturday against South Dakota, making four tackles in a 31-14 season-opening victory. He's on scholarship, playing football at the Division I level and, most important, doesn't have to worry about pinching pennies.
That wasn't always the case.
Faifili grew up in Hawaii but moved to Utah when he was 13. After he graduated from high school, Faifili took a year off from school and moved again, this time to Sacramento, Calif. He eventually enrolled at American River College, but his first five months were about survival.
"When I got to California all I had was $200 to last me a few months," Faifili recalled this week. "(I was) skipping meals and drinking lots of water."
When he enrolled in school, Faifili didn't have residency for the first three semesters, so he had to pay out-of-state tuition -- about $5,000 that he had to cobble together.
So, yes, he's loving life at Kansas, where he's on scholarship and the school provides his meals. But how did a kid from Hawaii end up here after stops in Utah and California? Partially because of Chargers linebacker Manti Te'o, Faifili's cousin.
Te'o played for current Kansas coach Charlie Weis at Notre Dame.
"He did talk to me about coming here, what kind of coach Coach Weis is," Faifili said. "He trusts coach. That played a little part of me coming here."
Just like Te'o, who was proud of his Hawaiian roots, Faifili carries a little bit of the island state with him just about anywhere he goes. He often has a ukulele under his arm, one of three instruments -- along with piano and guitar -- that he plays.
He started playing when he was a young boy in Laie, Hawaii, and will gladly strum a song on campus, sometimes serenading students with native songs.
"I carry it around with me every day just to lighten up the mood on campus," Faifili said. "Early morning classes everyone's like, 'Ugh!' So I just go sing around to people."
Faifili's good-natured demeanor changes when he steps onto the field. He made 114 tackles, nine tackles for loss and 12 sacks during his two years playing in junior college, and supplanted more veteran players on the depth chart shortly after arriving at Kansas.
Quarterback Jake Heaps even joked that he would have to calm Faifili down last Saturday against South Dakota because he was so excited to get on the field. Next up is a game at Rice on Saturday.
"I'm not nice," Faifili said. "I'm an easygoing guy. Friendly. But then we go on the field. Once you step in between those white lines, it's on. All business."
Defensive coordinator Dave Campo said Faifili brings a certain physicality that Kansas missed during a 1-11 season in 2012. So when the Jayhawks began fall camp in early August, the fact that he had about 30 pounds on incumbent linebacker Jake Love made it hard to keep him off the field.
"He can rush the passer, he's got some speed," Campo said. "He plays with an awful lot of passion and that's something that you can't put a number on."
Faifili unseated Love by the end of camp, which didn't surprise Weis, who's been intrigued by him ever since the recruiting process. Weis' next hope is for an opponent to make the mistake of latching onto Faifili's bushy hair that pokes out of the back of his helmet.
"We expected him to challenge a starting inside linebacker, that's what we expected when we brought him in here," Weis said. "I can't wait until someone pulls his hair from the back of his helmet. We'll look forward to that."