The majority of football stories that you come across deal with players who have been playing in some way since their childhood. There are exceptions to this common storyline, and today’s featured player is one of those exceptions. Domata Peko grew up in Pago Pago, American Samoa. In the South Pacific, rugby rules. And while there are many similarities between rugby and football, it was not until his senior year in high school that Peko strapped on the pads and began playing american football. You can read about his story in this article from Bleacher Report.
Imagine the changes, as the article points out, that Peko faced. He went from a South Pacific Island of 64 000 people to playing in college stadiums that regularly house 100 000. He went from an Island paradise where 75 is a chilly day to Michigan, where snow and freezing temperatures often become part of the landscape in November. And of course, he was 8,000 miles from home, playing a game that was still relatively new to him. Now he had played a couple of seasons at a junior college in California, but that doesn’t prepare you much for winter in Michigan. Here is a video of Peko in action as a senior at Michigan State.
Peko has been a cornerstone for the solid Bengals defense since joining them in 2006. He is second in the league in tackles by an interior lineman over the past 3 seasons. He has been named a team captain this season. He even has a sandwich named after him at a local Cincinnati deli. – How was he able to make these transitions and excel at this new game? From the article: “The humble Samoan attributes his success to his family and faith. “My dad is the pastor, so that’s how I was brought up,” Peko said. “I have to be thankful to God because that’s how I got everything.”
And Peko is known for giving back to the community of Cincinnati, where he has called home for his entire career. He is frequently seen at team sponsored events, and he and his wife Anna started the Domata Peko foundation to give back to underprivileged kids. The foundation website talks about Faith, Family and football being the things the Pekos are passionate about.
Here are my takeaways from Peko’s story:
1- Great Cloud of Witnesses – Hebrews 12 talks about “Such a large crowd of witnesses is all around us! So we must get rid of everything that slows us down, especially the sin that just won’t let go.” Peko’s story is noteworthy because he went from a small island that had fewer people than his college stadium could hold. He talks about how he was nervous at first, but once the game started, it was easy to get back into the flow. Sometimes, we can get caught up in our life of faith knowing that our actions are being watched. We are nervous to mess up and it may make us hesitant to do what we know we should do. But the lesson God has taught me over and over again is that His love is real, and those who genuinely love and wish to serve God will also often be there to share His love. Sometimes they do let us down or hurt us with their criticism, but at the end of the day, they are on our side, cheering us on. Knowing that, lets also encourage others as they strive to follow God. And God himself is our biggest cheerleader. He has the best game plan in place for our success.
2- We are all on a long journey – Hebrews 12 goes on to talk about running the race that is in front of us. And it is a long race. Peko has had a long, improbable journey to the NFL. But each step was important, and led to the next step. The same is true for our life. I may not be as far away from my home as Peko is, but I am far from where I thought I would be in life. I had my plans, but they were no match for God’s plans. Following Him has been an incredible adventure this far. If you are a Christ-follower, no doubt, you’ve seen your plans differ from God’s and hopefully, you’ve seen that His plan is the best. If you are not a Christ-follower, I can promise you that following God’s plan for life is the best adventure life can offer. And in the process, you will encounter the Creator of the world and learn how deeply He adores you. He truly knows no limits.