May 25, 2016
ANN ARBOR – When the NCAA rescinded its ban on satellite camps, it opened the door for Michigan to crisscross the nation for the second straight summer.
But that simply wasn’t enough for coach Jim Harbaugh, who is pushing the Michigan brand beyond the United States with trips to American Samoa and Australia.
Michigan coaches will hold two camps in American Samoa in June and Lealao Melila Purcell, who is helping organize the events, said there’s a buzz on the islands.
“It’s been great,” he said. “The coaches are elated with the fact that this is the first time the University of Michigan is coming through and a caliber of coach that used to be in the NFL and is now at the University of Michigan is coming through with the group. So, they’re excited.”
Purcell, the director of the American Samoa Department of Agriculture and a chairman for the Samoa Bowl, said there are two camps planned and both will take place at Veterans Memorial Stadium in Pago Pago. The first is May 30 to June 1, for high school-age players, with Michigan coaches there on June 1. The second is June 27-29, primarily for players in sixth through eighth grade, with Harbaugh and other coaches there on June 28.
The first trip to American Samoa corresponds with Michigan’s planned June 3 camp in Australia, which the Wolverines need a new host for due to a NCAA ruling. The second trip aligns with a June 26 camp in Hawaii. Tony Tuioti, Michigan’s new director of player personnel who is of Polynesian descent, was instrumental in lining up the camps in American Samoa.
“Coach Tony Tuioti emailed me and asked if we could assist with the University of Michigan coming through to do two camps,” Purcell said. “That was the beginning of our communication process, then everything else became part of the organization of having the first group come through and the second group of coaches with Coach Harbaugh.”
The Michigan camps will be about teaching football and also a cultural experience with activities and ceremonies planned for both visits.
“We’re going to get them involved in a ‘Ava ceremony (a shared drink), which will be done by the Samoan affairs group,” Purcell said, “and then also we’re waiting for confirmation from the governor to say ‘OK, he’ll host a dinner’ when Coach Harbaugh comes here.”
Football’s popularity continues to grow in American Samoa and players of Polynesian decent are making a big impact stateside. A 2015 Forbes article said that more than 70 NFL players are of Polynesian descent.
“Right now, besides the young people here leaving for the military, football is probably the one attraction in terms of having these kids get a scholarship and go off the island,” Purcell said, “and hopefully make it to help their families out.”