Photo: Jarvis Polu with his first career sack in 2015
Every January the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame enshrines a new class and names its pro and college players of the year. The weekend in Hawaii includes a Polynesian high school all-star game and a skills camp.
What better place for Jarvis Polu to kick off any hopes to contend for the Polynesian College Player of the Year honor than Aloha Stadium?
Navy’s third-year starting defensive end has been named to the watch list for the second straight year, and the Midshipmen open the 2018 season playing Hawaii on a field just a Malcolm Perry breakaway run from Pearl Harbor.
“It’s pretty cool to be on the watch list again,” Polu said. “But what I think is even cooler is I’m on the same watch list with my brother (Justin Polu, a UNLV offensive lineman), Tua Tagovaiola (Alabama’s quarterback) and all the other great Polynesian players.”
“I was born in Hawaii and most of my mom’s side of the family is in Hawaii. I grew up watching the Warriors. They had a perfect season (in 2007) until they met Georgia in the Sugar Bowl. I never thought I’d have a chance to play Hawaii. It’s a great opportunity.”
Compiling sacks and tackles to get off to a 1-0 beginning is a universal goal among defensive players, but Polu and his teammates are focused on more than a fast start. They want to finish strong.
Navy opened last year 5-0 but needed to beat Virginia in the Military Bowl for a 7-6 final record.
In 2016, the Midshipmen were 9-2 once they clinched the American Athletic Conference West title, but three straight losses suffered in the conference title game to Temple, in the Army-Navy Game and in the Armed Forces Bowl to Louisiana Tech dropped the final mark to 9-5.
That’s a two-year trend Navy wants to reverse.
“I think were hungry,” Polu said. “The end to the last two seasons left a bad taste in our mouths. A 9-5 record is great, but we could have won some of those games; it was just like last year. All those (2017) losses were by 10 points or less. We are responsible for winning those kinds of games. That shows you the margin of error is so small. We have to be more ready this year.”
One reason Polu never expected to be playing for Navy in Hawaii was he had originally committed to Army out Liberty High in Las Vegas. The Army oral pledge made sense: His father retired from the Army after 25 years as an E7, a senior non-commissioned officer.
But Polu had been recruited by former Army head coach Rich Ellerson, and he was fired at the end of the 2013 season. Polu’s parents, To’oto’ali and Seepa, asked him to take another look at Navy and head coach Ken Niumatalolo. He was the first Samoan head coach in Division I college football and was inducted into the Polynesian Hall of Fame’s inaugural Class of 2014.
“I think more than half of my decision to come to Navy was my parents’ call,” Polu said. “I trusted their input. They’ve gotten me this far, and I think they chose the right college for me. They liked the program and how caring Coach Ken is. From my parents’ perspective, this was the guy to take care of their son the next four years and treat him the same way they would have.”
Polu also was recruited by Duke, but committing to one of the academies wasn’t a tough decision for him as it for many kids without a military background. Polu was comfortable committing to five years service upon graduation based on the military meritocracy his father experienced serving in the Army.
“In the military everything is if you can get the job done,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re black, white, Polynesian, Asian or Hispanic. I haven’t come across discrimination. Everyone goes through hardships with deployments and homesickness, but it brings people closer.”
After Polu spent the 2014-15 school year at the Naval Academy Prep School in Rhode Island, he was admitted to Annapolis. As a freshman in 2015 he appeared in all 13 games. Polu broke into the starting lineup his sophomore season and has a streak of 27 straight starts entering 2018.
He missed spring drills with off-season surgery and his contact is limited in fall camp, but he says he will be ready to go “100 percent” for the Hawaii game.
As a sophomore, he recorded 53 tackles with three sacks and four tackles for a loss, but last year his numbers were down to 32 tackles with three for a loss and only a half-sack.
“Mainly pass rush,” he said of his 2018 improvement goals. “I didn’t have an impact on the pass rush statistically and the d-line wasn’t up there last year. Hopefully we can turn that around and I can make it better.
“I need to be quicker off the ball and study my opponents more. I have to hit the film room next year to recognize tendencies in my opponents. It’s mental adjustment this year to contribute to the sack total.”
If he plays consistently throughout the season like he has in his three Army-Navy Games, he can compile impressive numbers. In his first Army-Navy Game as a freshman he posted his initial career sack. As a sophomore collected a career-high nine tackles and as a junior three.
That leaves him one more year of having his father cheering for Navy in the 118th Army-Navy Game on Dec. 8 in Philadelphia.
“After this year, he’ll go back to rooting for Army,” Polu said.
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Army opens the season Aug. 31 at Duke and Air Force Sept. 1 at home against Stony Brook.
In the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy series, Navy is at Air Force on Oct. 6, Air Force at Army on Nov. 3 and the Army-Navy Game is Dec. 8 in Philadelphia.
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