To be Samoan high chief or not to be N.C. State lineman tackles tough choice

September 20, 1990|By Don Markus

Like many students at North Carolina State, Ricky Logo is busy contemplating his future. And like many college football players who are rated as marginal pro prospects, the junior nose guard figures that he will have to do something other than trade forearms and pressure quarterbacks after his eligibility runs out with the Wolfpack.

But Logo's post-graduate choices are different from most players'.

"Much different," he says with a laugh.

Consider this: Logo figures that either he will try to become an agent for the Federal Bureau of Investigation or he will return to his homeland to become the high chief of American Samoa. Logo is heir to the throne occupied by his 89-year-old grandfather.

It was not until he returned to his birthplace last summer that Logo even thought about going home for good. Logo, who left the island at age 3 when his father began a career in the U.S. Army, visited with his family outside Pago Pago for six weeks. But the time spent with his grandfather, Gati Lavita'i, caused Logo to realize how important, and difficult, a decision it would be.

"It was an unbelievable experience for me," says Logo, who is 5 feet 11 and 280 pounds. "In my heart, part of me says there is a custom and I should not go against it. The other side says to me that I should pursue a career in this country because that's what I've been working at for a long time."

Logo's father says that he would like his son to remain in the United States, finish his education and start on a more typical career path. But he understands the pressure being applied by his father-in-law, who has been chief since 1968.

"I would prefer that Ricky leaves all that tradition behind," Richard Logo said yesterday from Fort Leavenworth, Kan., where he is a staff sergeant in the military police. "There is still time for him to do it if he wants in five years or in 10 years."

There are some in American Samoa -- a U.S. territory halfway between Hawaii and Australia -- who think that Logo is not the heir apparent. Even Logo says that his 17-year-old cousin, Toa, is more suited for the job. During his stay last summer, Logo botched up a ceremony in which he was to present food to his grandfather, walking in from the wrong side of the room and putting down the tray on the wrong side of the chief.

As Logo recalls it, his grandfather said: "You will excuse my grandson. He's been raised in the States and he's stupid."

Said Logo, "It was pretty embarrassing, but I respect my grandfather so much."

Except for that brief moment, Logo thoroughly enjoyed returning to his roots. When his Wolfpack teammates were in summer school, Logo was learning about his heritage. While they were spending those scorching afternoons in the weight room, Logo was busy fishing and farming and realizing how simple life could be.

"The biggest adjustment was the living conditions," says Logo, who grew up on Army bases in Washington, California and Georgia, where he attended high school. "There is no air-conditioning. There are no cars, only trucks. There were a lot of surprises. But the biggest surprise for me is how much me and my grandfather look like each other. You look at our faces at the same age, and we could be twins. The biggest difference is our attitude. He is a very stubborn person, and I'm not."

What makes Logo so effective in his role for N.C. State, which meets Maryland on Saturday at Byrd Stadium, is that, aside from being exceptionally agile for his size, he is the second-strongest player on the Wolfpack, bench-pressing well over 500 pounds.

"He reminds you of a heavyweight wrestler," says John Zernhelt, Maryland's offensive-line coach. "He's a tough nose guard because he's built so compact, and he's got good mobility for his size. We'll have our hands full with him."

Logo is far from boastful, about his abilities or his lineage. Nobody at Spencer High School in Columbus, Ga., knew that he was the son of a Samoan princess. And the Wolfpack coaching staff didn't find out about it until after Logo's freshman year.

"He just wants to be another football player, another student," says N.C. State head coach Dick Sheridan.

Not that Logo tries to hide his heritage. When he showed up as a freshman, some of his Wolfpack teammates razzed him pretty good about his native Samoan lava-lava skirts, which Logo says "look like Jams." But now, he says, some of his teammates are wearing them.

Logo finds himself wearing his lava-lava and thinking about TC possible life in American Samoa more than ever before. The prospect of becoming a chief is, he says, a frightening thought.

But Logo says what scares him even more is the possibility of turning down an offer, should it come. Rejecting the role of matai, or chief, is unprecedented, according to Samoan lore. "There would be a lot of criticism upon my parents if I wasn't to take it," says Logo.

The timing of Logo's decision depends on his grandfather's health. Though strong-willed, the chief is living with a pacemaker that needs to be recharged three times a week. Logo receives monthly updates on his condition. At a moment's notice, Logo could be back on his way to Pago Pago, awaiting word from the family.

"He told me he'd be there until I graduate," says Logo, who expects to get his degree in criminal justice next spring. "But if something happened to him, I would have to start thinking more about what I was going to do. And in our tradition, family means everything. If the family wants me, I will have to go."

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