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Arena football: Long, long road brings rookie LB Kavika Luafatasaga to Pirates

Kavika Luafatasaga

WORCESTER — After practicing with the Massachusetts Pirates Tuesday morning, Kavika Luafatasaga headed to Shrewsbury in the afternoon to try his hand at teaching football rather than learning and playing it.

The rookie linebacker teamed up with the New England Patriots Alumni Club as a volunteer instructor for an afternoon clinic that drew more than a hundred area youth ages 9 to 14 to St. John’s High.

“It was cool; a way to give back,” Luafatasaga, 23, said a day later. “It’s good to see the kids doing what we used to do when we were younger.”

The 6-foot-4, 240-pound Luafatasaga (pronounced loo-uh-fah-ta-songa) has been one of the Pirates’ most durable and productive players, helping the second-year franchise to a 7-5 record and a berth in the National Arena League playoffs.

The Pirates will meet the first-place Jacksonville Sharks Saturday night in Florida before closing out the regular season against the New York Streets July 27 at the DCU Center.

Getting from there to here for Luafatasaga wasn’t as crazy as navigating Kelley Square, but it was close.

“Yeah, it was a pretty long road for me,” he said.

Luafatasaga was born in Samoa and moved to Hawaii when he was about four years old. He lived there until he was in sixth grade and then relocated to Seattle, where he remained until returning to Hawaii prior to his senior year of high school.

Although Luafatasaga played football — as a 205-pound press corner — as a senior at Farrington High in Honolulu, he dropped out before graduating. He did go on to earn his GED and a year later decided he wanted to return to school and sports.

A friend of a friend pulled some strings and got Luafatasaga into a camp for high school players that drew college coaches from all levels. However, only one of those coaches offered him a scholarship, and that’s how Luafatasaga landed at Arizona Western, a junior college in Yuma.

“It just all went from there,” he said.

Luafatasaga tore it up during his two seasons in the desert, moving from cornerback to linebacker and morphing into a four-star recruit who drew the attention of schools in the SEC and Pac-12. After initially committing to Mississippi, he ultimately signed with Utah.

“It was a new environment for me, being in the South and away from where I usually am on the West Coast,” Luafatasaga said. “I thought I could handle it. I always wanted to play in the SEC, but when I took a visit, it was just different. I felt like I was going to be really homesick.”

Luafatasaga made himself at home during his two years at Utah, which culminated with him earning All-Pac-12 honors as a senior along with a degree in sociology. After being bypassed in the 2018 NFL Draft, the San Francisco 49ers and Washington Redskins extended him minicamp invitations.

“I didn’t make the team, and that’s where the Mass. Pirates came calling me, and now I’m here in Worcester,” Luafatasaga said.

The Pirates are glad to have him.

After some early issues adjusting to the inside game, Luafatasaga has been a mainstay in the lineup. He’s one of three defensive players to start all 12 games — he played in all 26 games with 21 starts at Utah — and ranks third on the team in tackles (36) and second in interceptions (2).

All that despite the limitations of playing the Jack linebacker position, meaning he can run wall to wall, but generally can’t drop back more than 5 yards until the ball leaves the quarterback’s hands.

“Kavika is a great guy,” Pirates coach Anthony Payton said. “First of all, he has the perfect size to play Jack, and he moves well sideline to sideline. He brings a lot of intensity when he makes tackles and has good ball instincts. He’s doing everything he’s told to do and is an easy guy to coach.”

Luafatasaga figures he’ll head to California after the season ends and continue training while hoping another NFL opportunity comes his way.

“Just try to keep in shape and get ready for whatever team calls me,” Luafatasaga said. “I wouldn’t mind playing here again and try to win a championship, which I believe we can still do it this season.”

—Contact Rich Garven at rgarven@telegram.com. Follow him on Twitter @RichGarvenTG.

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