Mulitalo moves to beat of past

Ravens: For a man who has been a missionary and who had to learn to do without at a young age, the latest adjustment for offensive lineman Edwin Mulitalo is no big deal.


August 11, 2002|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

Portraying Edwin Mulitalo's move from left guard to right tackle as a mountainous pursuit overlooks the variety of experiences the man has packed into his 27 years.

Before turning "Festivus Maximus" into the catch phrase of the Ravens' drive to Super Bowl XXXV, Mulitalo proselytized in Idaho and Oregon, worked with disabled children in Arizona and studied geology in the Grand Tetons. All and all - all 350 pounds of him - Mulitalo said he's your typical Mormon Samoan-American.

Although involved in many communities, family is paramount to Mulitalo, who made his first trip to his ancestral homeland in 2001 for a camp run by NFL players, but passed on a return to the South Pacific because it conflicted with his fifth wedding anniversary. He blew much of his Super Bowl bonus ensuring that 11 relatives visited Tampa in style.

He has attacked his new position like everything else, with missionary zeal, but there is one place where Mulitalo is a subservient go-fer. As the youngest of seven, he knows his place when he joins his clan in Salt Lake City.

"In our family, the youngest has to do the menial jobs," said Moliki, his oldest brother. "When he comes home and we're organizing a falavela - a gathering to provide funds for a wedding or a funeral - I'll tell him, `Ed, bring in the chicken or go get some root beer.' He has a Super Bowl ring, but he has chores to do when he comes home."

Moliki was born in American Samoa, on an island about the size of Baltimore City. It's midway between Australia and Hawaii, where the next three Mulitalo children were born. The last three were born in the Bay Area, where the debate began over the best athlete among the four boys.

The safest place for Ravens fans at the 2001 AFC championship game in Oakland was behind the Brothers Mulitalo. Ed still won't boast that he is a better football player than San Francisco, who played at Brigham Young University, but there is no argument about the toughest guy in the family.

"My dad worked for 27 years as a blacksmith," Mulitalo said. "He stood over a furnace and anvil, and pounded bits and tools for 8 hours a day. When my brothers worked with him, they never lasted longer than a week. When I would pick him up for lunch, I couldn't stay in there for 15 minutes. To understand the sacrifices he made to give me a better life, I'll always admire him for that."

Mulitalo's grandfather was a convert to the Mormon faith. As did his siblings, Ed spent two years on a mission. His two oldest sisters, Ulu and Ta'alolo, who is deceased, absorbed new languages and cultures in Japan and Chile, respectively. Ed's mission split his two junior college seasons at Ricks College, in an Idaho town a short drive from the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone National Park.

"You ask a 19-year-old kid, those are his prime years, when you can go wherever and do whatever you want," Mulitalo said. "Between 19 and 21, all we do is pretty much preach the gospel of our church. There are rules we go by. No TV, no movies, no reading the newspaper. We pretty much separate ourselves from the world and worldy things. That helped me more than any experience in my life, by far."

Mulitalo insists that it wasn't until 1998, when he was a senior at Arizona and Chris McAlister was the Wildcats' star on the other side of the ball, that he pondered a future in the NFL. The Ravens drafted him in the fourth round in 1999, and they have gone 31-11 since he was inserted into the starting lineup midway through that season.

In his first three years, Mulitalo had one of the more anonymous jobs in pro football, lining up next to All-Pro tackle Jonathan Ogden. Now, he's supposed to close the revolving door the Ravens had at right tackle last season.

The position was hazardous to one's well-being, akin to playing keyboards for the Grateful Dead, as the Ravens tried to coax another season out of Leon Searcy, Harry Swayne and Erik Williams. Sammy Williams started seven of the first eight games, and Kipp Vickers went there the rest of the way. None survived the off-season housecleaning.

When offensive line coach Jim Colletto told Mulitalo to line up at right tackle in minicamp, there were snickers from mates, but this is a golden opportunity. Tackles make more than guards, and the greater Mulitalo's earning power, the easier it will be to retire to Hawaii and teach. He's six credits shy of a special education degree.

"There's a lot of weight on my shoulders," Mulitalo said. "If I do well, everyone on the line is going to do well. I played tackle in college, but there is no preparation for the speed of someone like a Jevon Kearse. I got into some hard training down in Atlanta with Shannon Sharpe in the off-season. I was fascinated by what he does, and I asked him if it would work with 300-pounders."

Wearing a T-shirt that read, "I see small people," Mulitalo said he wants to get down to 340, but he wears the pounds well.

His training camp roommate is Casey Rabach, the second-year player from Wisconsin who will replace him at left guard. While most pro athletes favor the latest electronic toys, Mulitalo unwinds with his ukelele, as a self-professed "pineapplehead" sings lullabyes to a cheesehead.

Count performance art among his interests, as it's custom to have Mulitalo do a war dance at the end of camp, on rookie night.

"It's a Polynesian war dance, from New Zealand, called the haka," Mulitalo said. "A bunch of warriors in ancient days would get together to psych each other up. If they did it good enough - you're talking about thousands of guys doing the same war dance - the other clan would be afraid and wouldn't go to war."

If only it worked on defensive ends.

Next for Ravens

Preseason opponent:New York Jets

Site:Ravens Stadium

When:Thursday, 8 p.m.

TV/Radio:Comcast SportsNet, Ch. 45/WJFK (1300 AM), WQSR (102.7 FM)

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