Georgia Tech's Joe Anaoi (96) tackles Maryland quarterback Joel Stratham (160 with help from Eric Henderson, during the second quarter Saturday, Oct. 9, 2004, in College Park, Md. Anaoi's father and uncle wrestled professionally as the "Wild Samoans," a championship tag team and his older brother is a professional wrestler in the WWE.
AP Photo/Chris Gardner, file
ATLANTA So far, football is working out just fine for Joe Anoai. He's starting at Georgia Tech as a sophomore. His team will likely get an invitation to its eighth straight bowl game.
But Anoai knows he's got a backup sport using the term loosely if this one doesn't pan out.
His father and uncle were the ''Wild Samoans,'' a championship tag team. His older brother competes in World Wrestling Entertainment (one of his recent schticks: ''Superhero in Training''). Two cousins were stars in the ring. ''The Rock'' is considered family.
Anoai (an-uh-WHY-ee) has even pondered some character ideas how about ''The Ramblin' Samoan'' since he plays for the Ramblin' Wreck? and some fashion no-no's should he ever climb through the ropes to fulfill his legacy.
''I know I wouldn't wear a thong like my cousin,'' Anoai said, referring to the hefty grappler known as Rikishi. ''I would wear the more standard suit, like The Rock. The high boots and bigger underwear, at least.''
As for names, ''Rosey'' is already taken. That's his brother's ring moniker, which he uses while fighting at the side of the WWE's resident superhero, ''The Hurricane.'' Apparently, Rosey learned his lessons well.
''I graduated,'' said the man also known as Matt Anoai. ''I'm a full-fledged superhero now.''
Matt doesn't doubt for a minute that his younger brother could thrive in the rough-and-tumble world of wrestling, where athleticism is a must even with the scripted moves and predetermined outcomes.
''I don't see any problems for him getting into wrestling and excelling at it at a very fast rate,'' Matt said by telephone from Cincinnati, where he lives with his wife and two children. ''He picks things up well, he learns quickly and he has one of the most important tools in any sport: He doesn't think he knows it all. He's coachable.''
Essentially, that sums up how Georgia Tech's coaches feel about Joe Anoai, who has emerged as one of the key players on a defense that has allowed just one touchdown in four of the last five games.
Despite being a bit undersized (255 pounds) to play on the interior line, Anoai has used his quickness to make 11 tackles behind the line of scrimmage, including 3 1/2 sacks.
''He's a real tough guy,'' said coach Chan Gailey, whose Yellow Jackets (6-3) play No. 18 Virginia on Saturday.
Besides, Anoai is likely to put on more weight if his family tree is any indication. Rikishi, for example, is said to tip the scales at more than 400 pounds. Matt Anoai said he weighs about 370.
''We're hoping Joe is going to get that big,'' Gailey quipped.
But there's a dark side to the family's weighty issues. Another cousin, Yokozuna, was a two-time World Wrestling Federation champion but fought the battle of the bulge throughout his career. He reportedly climbed to more than 600 pounds before dying of a heart attack at age 34.
Joe Anoai has a much leaner frame and no desire to go into the family business at this point in his life.
''I'm so used to it, I don't even think about it,'' he said. ''When I was young, I used to jump on my dad and play around in the ring. But I didn't take it too seriously.''
Growing up in Pensacola, Fla., Anoai attended some wrestling matches, hung out with his family's friends and got accustomed to the lingo. But football was and still is his passion.
''I love this game,'' Anoai said. ''It's done a lot for me. I want to keep pursuing it.''
His brother recognized right away that Joe was going places on the football field.
''A lot of times when you're raised in wrestling, you always know you've got that out,'' Matt said. ''Sometimes, you don't focus much on the task at hand. Joe has never been that way. He's always put football right there at the top, and made sure his grades were good enough to be able to play ball.''
Matt also grew up playing football he was a high school teammate of Emmitt Smith and earned a scholarship from Hawaii as an offensive lineman. After his career stalled out in college, he went to work at a normal 9-to-5 job.
After a few years, he finally succumbed to the lure of wrestling.
''When you're raised in wrestling ... you don't really glorify wrestling like the other guys in WWE,'' Matt said. ''Don't get me wrong. I love wrestling with all my heart. It has supported my family since I was born. But the lure of it, the luster of it, that kind of wears out. You focus on different things.''
Being the child of a wrestler creates some hardships.
Their father, known in the ring as ''Sika,'' paired with their uncle ''Afa'' to form the ''Wild Samoans,'' one of the most successful tag teams in wrestling history. But the duo was on the road constantly, sometimes for stretches as long as two months.
Sika, whose actual name is Leati Anoai, went to extraordinary lengths to keep in touch with his sons' lives. Matt remembers his dad driving seven hours to watch a high school game in Gainesville, Fla., then driving straight back to catch a 13-hour flight to Japan.
''I know there are dads who don't have that kind of schedule who don't make time for their kids' functions,'' Matt said. ''No matter how tired he was, he was always involved when he was there.''
While wrestling is the family sport, football is making strong inroads.
Joe went against another cousin last weekend when Georgia Tech beat Connecticut 30-10. Afa Anoai is a backup defensive lineman for the Huskies.
Matt, who is 14 years older than Joe, wishes he could have gone against his little brother on the football field. Reverting to his wrestling persona, ''Rosey'' talked a little long-distance smack.
''I kind of wish I was his age and at a different school,'' Matt said, trying to sound serious. ''I would eat his lunch.''
Then he reconsidered.
''I don't think that's ever going to happen,'' Matt said. ''Joe's a pretty big boy now.''
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