From his heritage to his talents on and off the football field, there’s a lot that goes into who is now the person, Olive Sagapolu. But more than anything, a strong faith and an even stronger mother has made Olive into the man he is today.
Wisconsin’s Olive Sagapolu, a 6-2, 336 pound defensive tackle from American Samoa, became quite the media sensation this offseason for a certain backflip, causing quite the ripple effect on Twitter and other social media sites, alike.
In fact, Sagapolu has many talents, like backflipping, playing ukulele all around campus, and of course, helping anchor a top-ten defense for the Badgers. The big-hearted man in the middle has a lot going for him, and is more interesting than most athletes in his arena. Just don’t call him ‘Mr. Aloha,’ because as much as that nickname was thrown around this Summer, Sagapolu tells me, “Nobody actually calls me Mr. Aloha,” setting the record straight from the jump.
Sagapolu was born in Hawaii, but grew up in American Samoa, before playing his high school ball in California at the esteemed Mater Dei Academy. Olive was born to two married parents, but was mostly raised by his mother, Tulima, after his parents divorced at a young age. Tulima and her football-star son are very close, as he couldn’t say enough about her, and what she has done for him throughout his journey.
“My mom means the world to me. She is the reason I play the game,” Sagapolu exclaimed.
“Throughout my whole life, she always gave me the opportunity to go somewhere. She said that whatever I do in life, do it through His name. I’ve seen her work countless hours trying to put food on the table, take care of people who are near and dear to her. I sit back amazed at how she can do all these things,” Olive continued with a smile on his face.
Tulima put everything she possibly could into Olive and his younger brother, and now gets to see all the hard work pay off. Although it is a long way from American Samoa, Tulima will be in Madison for at least three games this season, staying at the Lyles’ house, good friends of hers, and parents of fellow defensive lineman Kayden Lyles.
As Sagapolu alluded to, so much of Tulima’s beliefs and her family values are a deep faith in God, which she has instilled into Olive.
Olive has a deep Christian faith, which he described very simply yet eloquently in conversation.
“I believe that He has put me here today. I’m trying to follow along with His plan. He gets me up everyday unassisted. He allows me to play the game that I love, He gives me all these things daily. I cannot do anything but praise Him.”
Sagapolu is one of many Christian athletes in this country, but with Olive, he truly practices what he preaches and believes in, and that is evident to see for anyone around him. He speaks and comes off as very light-hearted, but at the same time, one can feel the sincerity, as he truly just wants everyone around him to be happy to be alive.
“I think it’s been from the time we grew up. My mom has always been the person that kind of instilled that in me: you do everything for God. So, I think that’s kind of where my whole religion comes into play as well, in terms of, I believe that He has put me on this Earth to do something. I’m not exactly sure what it is yet, I’m still a young guy trying to figure out my way in my life, and I’m just doing the one thing I truly love to do, and that’s to play, compete and play football. I think that’s kind of where that whole soft side has come from, in my faith, and just kind of growing up with that my whole life,” Sagapolu explained, when asked from where this care and concern for others comes.
As much as he is happy and fun-loving off the field, he is a fast, strong, destructor of offenses on the field.
“To me, it’s the same thing and I’m the same way. I don’t change that much from on the field to off the field. I like to smile, I like everyone else around me to smile, I’m going to be happy. And, I mean, on the field, a lot of guys tend to look down on themselves. It’s tough. The only thing I can tell them is, ‘Dude, have fun. Just play the game.’ So, nothing really changes for me. I’m just out there, trying to lead, make sure everyone’s happy and doing what they’re supposed to out there.”
As dedicated as Olive is to his faith and family, there are not many players one can find that work on honing their craft more than Sagapolu does, either.
When asked how he prepares for games, Olive exclaimed, “I love watching film. Lots of times, people ask me what I’m doing, and I’m just watching film. I mean I’m not the strongest or most athletic (insert backflip here), so I’m always working on my knowledge for the game, and looking for technique.”
When Sagapolu watches film from outside of the Badgers and his own past plays, he only watches the best.
“I really just like to watch and learn. I watch a lot of guys, like Linval Joseph, Aaron Donald, Akiem Hicks, Vince Wilfork when he was playing, Damon Harrison. So yeah, I watch a lot of different guys, and just kind of pick up on certain things, looking to improve my technique.”
Olive is also very unselfish on the football field, wanting to use his skill and experience on the defensive line to help his teammates throughout the season.
“My individual goal would be, try to be the guy leading all season on the line,” Sagapolu quickly stated.
“I want to be the guy that knows what to say, knows what to do, and kind of that guy in the front seven, that can kind of let guys know around me where they should be, and just be a leader in the front seven for this team.”
Sagapolu is one of the few remaining starters from 2017 on defense, and easily the most experienced player on the Badgers’ defensive line.
With an easy non-conference schedule and a loaded team all over the field, Wisconsin is primed for an historic season, with many people talking National Championship around Madison.
Amidst high expectations, Sagapolu shared just how far he thinks his team can go this year.
“As far as we want to go. I’m not really one to say what we can do, but I definitely think so. But that just kind of goes back to, are we dominant? Will we continue to show that we are dominant? Going in every day, and just kind of finding something each week that’s a spark. We have to find somebody that can do that, whether it’s somebody else, or me. Everybody has to find that, but yeah, I do believe that we can go as far as we want to.”
That confidence from the team leader is not lacking throughout the squad, with Wisconsin’s next test on Saturday against BYU at home.
No matter how far this team goes, as Sagapolu transitions from college star to eventual NFL prospect, there is no question he will continue to help fans fall in love with him everywhere he goes, light up the people on his path, and share the credit with his God, and his amazing mother along the way.