He may be on his way to making a name for himself as a star in America’s National Football League with the Oakland Raiders, but Shalom Luani still remembers where he came from.
“One of the questions I’m always asked when I do interviews now is ‘how do you bring soccer into football?’, and all I can say is that soccer gave me footwork,” Luani said.
“The drills they gave me helped me be able to move quickly and fast so it was helpful when making the switch.
As a member of the American Samoa national team back in 2011 it was a 17-year-old Luani who scored in the 74th minute to hand his country a 2-1 win over Tonga – their first ever victory in a World Cup Qualifying encounter.
Following that foray into the history books, Luani’s life took a different direction away from the game where he made his initial mark.
But he remains committed to the development of soccer in American Samoa which is why on this most recent trip home to visit family and friends, he’s also made time to visit Pago Park Soccer Stadium to take in the OFC Champions League 2018 Qualifier.
“Being back, I was able to make it to one of the games and watch the boys play,” he said of catching his former captain Li’atama Amisone Jnr’s club Pago Youth competing in the Qualifier.
“I think, they have a lot of potential in them, you know, to grow as a soccer players and even as men. I know there are some young players in the team and I think they are not ready to be on that level yet.
“So just for them being here and for the American Samoa association keep building the clubs here and let them grow, make them grow, and they will become some of the best players here on the island.”
Although he’s now seeing success in one of the United States of America’s most popular sports, there are times when Luani misses the round-ball game of his youth.
“I really do miss playing soccer, but I cannot afford to risk getting any injuries so that’s why I am just being patient.
“Back then I would say soccer was one of the bigger sports and I always wanted to play but now I am a successful American Football player so I feel like I can’t really think back on that. But I kind of miss it to be honest,” he said.
“My most memorable moment was when I scored the goal against Tonga in the World Cup Qualifier in Apia. It made me feel like I was doing something for my country and for this association.
“And being the youngest player on the team, it makes me feel special to play, especially with the older guys and compete with them. It was awesome.”
The journey from international soccer player to NFL Rookie has been an unconventional one for Luani, and is aware of just how fortunate he is to be in his current position.
“I know I’ve had a long journey, but I had no plans after High School and I’ve always believed it’s all in God’s plan, all I did was believing in it and trust it, just keep on going.
“I’m glad my first year as a rookie has been done with. I’ve learned a lot from being a pro.
“It’s all business and if you’re expecting people to treat you like a baby you’re not going to make it.