Joe Onosai is Centurians #26

About how he’s addicted to Facebook, Joe Onosai said:
“It’s addicting.” (HSB)

HSB Note: ‘In just a few short months, the former lineman has attracted more than 1,500 followers. Pretty good for a guy who grew up without a computer in Kuhio Park Terrace. Onosai’s daily message via Facebook is no surprise to friends and fellow worshippers at Word of Life Christian Center, where he’s been a pastor since 1997. In some ways, his ascension to ministry was destined.”

About how his grandfather, Lafaele Onosai (a minister who had no ministers among his children), had a vision that he would be a minister when he was born, Joe said:
“When he held me for the first time, he said, ‘This young man is going to carry on my ministry.’ That’s what my mom told me before we left.” (HSB)

About how his parents left Se’etaga, American Samoa, due to his respiratory issues and other health issues when he was a baby, Joe added with a grin:
“My mom said I was retarded.” (HSB)

HSB Note: “The family got on a military flight to Hawaii, where Onosai was treated at Tripler Army Medical Hospital. They’ve been in Hawaii ever since.”

About how he saw Joe’s leadership ability when he coached him, George Chang said:
“He was always bigger than the other kids his own age. He was naturally a good athlete for his age. He could do everything well, was a very nice kid. Kind of a natural leader.” (HSB)

About what he most remembers about playing for Don Botelho in high school, Joe said:
“Coach Bo was always very old school. The year we won the Prep Bowl, the bus ride home from the stadium, you wouldn’t be able to tell whether we won a game or not. All he wanted was for you to be humble, whether you won or lost. We weren’t allowed to talk or cheer. It was who he was and who he is. We followed suit and understood Coach Bo, that we didn’t want to overcelebrate.

One of the greatest values I learned from him is, ‘I’ve been on the other side for many years, where we always lost. I always told myself, if I ever win, I’ll never make the other team feel bad.’ That sticks with me to this day.” (HSB)

HSB Note: “Through high school, Onosai’s health improved, but he never had it easy. Bronchitis and asthma followed him, even as he grew to be a man among boys. Asthma attacks in high school scared just about everyone.”

About how his Pac-Five teammates remember how bad his asthma attacks were, Onosai said:
“All my Pac-Five teammates, they remember. They called the ambulance.” (HSB)

HSB Note: “When life teeters on the brink at such a young age, a teenager can only wonder why. Onosai counted his blessings and kept pushing on. He accepted a scholarship offer from the University of Hawaii, where he moved from fullback to the offensive line and developed into a player with NFL potential.”

About becoming a star OL for UH under Dick Tomey, Onosai said:
“COACH TOMEY is probably the greatest motivator who I’ve ever met in my life. Not only was he eloquent and articulate, he was very emotional. He knew how to get you up for a game. He also knew how to put the fear of God in you. If he wasn’t pleased with you, he’d let you know, whether you were a player or coach.” (HSB)

Praising Onosai, Tomey said:
“Joe was a man among boys, a very physical guy, a tough guy, but a very solid individual. He became a great leader, an outstanding performer and he was a great worker. He did it all.” (HSB)

HSB Note: “O-line coaches Ed Riewerts and Mike Hill did much of the molding at UH. Between daily battles with defensive star Al Noga and constant motivation from the staff — Tomey once called Onosai “a big sissy,” which seems absolutely comical now — he turned into a sixth-round draft choice by the Dallas Cowboys, his favorite team. By preseason camp, his dreams about pro football were snuffed out. An injury during practice led to an exam, where doctors found a narrowing of his spinal cord, a birth defect that made the risk of paralysis far too great.”

About having to quit football after being injured during an early practice with the Cowboys, Onosai said:
“I hit the guy and bruised the cord severely. Thankfully, that didn’t sever the cord.” (HSB)

HSB Note: “It took four days for the strength in his legs to return fully. It took two years of rehab work to get his upper-body strength back to normal. What hurt most, though, wasn’t the end of his career.”

About how he was deeply hurt by the loss of his dream of playing pro football, Onosai said:
“I felt like my whole world came crashing down. My whole motivation was to buy a house for my mom (Evotia) and dad (Falaniko). They would always assure me, the main thing is you’re alive, able to function normally, but in my heart, it was a major disappointment.” (HSB)

About tapping into a higher power before his senior season at UH, Onosai said:
“I gave my life to the Lord. I think because of that, I feel like I got the strength to bear all the things I went through.” (HSB)

HSB Note: “Onosai married his high-school sweetheart, Ann, in 1986. They have three children, including UH track and field athlete Careena. ONOSAI FUNNELED his frustration and energy into the World’s Strongest Man competitions for many years. At 6-feet-4 and 375 pounds, he had a 65-inch chest and 22-inch biceps. There was no other Strongman who could power lift better.”

About how Onosai is as his coach, lineman Judah Parker said:
“He cares a lot about our families and our school, kind of like Coach Carter. He’s been at that peak, so I really take to heart what he says.” (HSB)

HSB Note: “Onosai also led the “Men of War,” an evangelizing group of ex-convicts and ex-drug dealers, former gang leaders and police officers. They brought an anti-drug message to high schools through a strongman theme — busting bricks, bending steel bars, lifting huge logs and more.

After coaching Pac-Five following Botelho’s retirement in 2003, he spearheaded Word of Life’s program. Last year, the Firebrands won two games in their first crack at the varsity level. The list of former Firebrands now playing college football or volleyball is expanding, and Onosai hasn’t forgotten his roots. Eight Word of Life graduates came from his stomping ground, Kuhio Park Terrace.”

About coaching high school kids, Onosai said:
“Kids definitely need discipline. Some of them grew up in homes where they’re not taught core values. What you become is more important than what you achieve. You’re able to see the kids’ confidence levels increase. The light turns on.” (HSB)

About how Facebook helps him keep in touch with others despite his busy schedule, Onosai said:
“I love to bring hope to people.” (HSB)

HSB Note: “Real results matter. Through offseason training, Word of Life’s athletes get stronger and faster. Onosai is right there in the gym with his coaches and players every day, overseeing their players. He isn’t as big on protein supplements as he is on a basic balanced diet. He isn’t as gung-ho about overnight success as he is about steady, realistic progress, both for Word of Life and Polynesian families.”

About how Polynesian families have been making progress, Onosai said:
“I know our people have come a long way, but some of us still struggle with assimilation. The alcoholism. The violence.” (HSB)

“There’s been progress, but we’re still struggling. There’s a breakdown of the traditional Samoan family. Where before — every Samoan kid knows this — you’re home by 6 o’clock and you’re praying. You can hear a family singing hymns, worshipping and praying. When I was growing up, it was a sacred time to get home when that sun went down or you’d get cracks.” (HSB)

HSB Note: “In addition to a Samoan mayor, Mufi Hannemann, there are two Samoan judges and several doctors now, he points out.”

About how Onosai is a great example for local boys, Tomey said:
“He’s a great example, of what a local boy can do when he stays home and makes a difference.” (HSB)

About how Onosai was as a boy, George Chang (former KPT parks and recreation director) said:
“Even as a kid, he took everything into consideration and listened. I’m proudest of the kids who became good citizens.” (HSB)


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