Stephen Paea, 27, is a defensive lineman for the Washington Redskins. He was an all-American at Oregon State University and was drafted by the Chicago Bears in 2011. He signed a four-year, $21 million contract with Washington in March.
You grew up in Tonga, which I guess is just like D.C.?
Uh, no. [Laughs.] Totally opposite. Picture Hawaii, but not on the Waikiki side. I mean, we have stores and all that, but we don’t have what you consider Americanized things.
Is American football a big deal there?
No. It was rugby for men, and for women it was netball.
Did you want to be a rugby star?
Yeah, I played rugby in high school. My dad was thinking that after high school in Tonga I could go to New Zealand and go pro and make a living out of it. But everything went a different direction, and we came here. My cousin came to Tonga and told my parents, “You can make a lot of money here playing football.” And my mom loved the idea. The next thing you know, we were on a plane.
Which is tougher: rugby or football?
Football is physical. But rugby is more physical because you play offense and defense and there’s no pads. There’s more technique in rugby, especially when it comes to tackling and bringing a guy down. But the money’s good in football. You can make a living.
I hear you once bench-pressed 225 pounds 49 times in a row.
Yeah, I lost count. The crowd was really loud, and everyone was cheering.
I actually did that 63 times in a row once.
[Laughs.] Oh yeah?
Yeah, it was pretty easy. Who’s the strangest guy on the team?
I’d probably have to say Terrance Knighton. Verbally and physically, he’s kind of a bully, but in a fun way. A lot of big guys have low self-esteem, but not him. He has the highest self-esteem. He thinks he’s the best, the prettiest, the strongest. That’s what I like about him. He’s got swagger.
I’ve seen your pregame dance, the Haka. Have you taught that to your teammates?
I’ll probably try. But I want to wait and see if they like it. If they like it, I’ll teach them. But we all have different ways to try and pump ourselves up.
You have 2-year-old triplets. That sounds exhausting.
Yeah, two boys and one girl. And we have an older daughter, a 5-year-old. They make me work at home. I go in there after work and I take a nap on the couch while they’re jumping on me. I love it.
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