There's an island attitude floating around the Jets locker room, and it's not because they're on vacation in July at various luxurious destinations before the start of training camp. For three players, there is a pervasive presence that ties the locker room together.
Veteran offensive tackle Wayne Hunter, rookie tackle Aaron Kia and rookie linebacker Brashton Satele are all from the Hawaiian island of Oahu, and their friendship has been noteworthy this offseason.
"It's good being here with them because we can all relate to each other," Kia said. "We're all out on the East Coast and I've never been here before. Being here with people from the island makes it easier, because if it was just me out here, it would be real lonely. But we have some local boys here, so it's all good."
All three went to the University of Hawaii, although Hunter graduated in 2003, seven years ahead of Kia and Satele. The latter two learned about Hunter and all of the other former Hawaii players that have made it in the NFL, but the two rookies also share an interesting connection themselves.
In high school, Satele and Kia played against one another and played in the state's high school all-star game together before playing for five seasons at the University of Hawaii as teammates. Their friendship has been helpful during their long journey to the New York area.
"It's been a big change especially because I came from the Pacific all the way to the Atlantic," Satele said. "West to East Coast, that's a big difference. It's great to have a vet in Wayne and another rookie, too."
It seems the largest impact has been made on Kia, who has Hunter as a mentor because they play the same position. The 6'5", 320-pound Hunter was a third-round draft pick by the Seattle Seahawks and after three seasons signed with Jacksonville before coming to the Jets in 2007. His experience, leadership and history as one of the major talents to come out of Hawaii have been incredibly helpful to Kia.
"To come to find that you're in the same place as someone you looked up to and is a legend at your school, you can't even describe it. It's just awesome," Kia said. "You're with the legend and just learning from the guy that was the best at his school. I can learn from him. You watch film on him on college and you try to learn from film, but now you can learn from him one-on-one."
Satele and Kia are from Mililani while Hunter hails from just outside Honolulu. Although Hunter understands the transition that Kia and Satele might be facing, he believes that they'll soon get used to the East Coast and that he can help make the cross-country experiment easier on them.
"It feels good just talking from experience," Hunter said. "When I went to Jacksonville from Seattle, we had about three or four guys who were from Hawaii so it made that transition much easier for me. I'm assuming they feel the same way. When they first came here, they brought me a sweater from Hawaii. It was nice because you got that aloha spirit roaming around the locker room, which is what I always missed from Hawaii. Just having that island connection just makes our connection better."
Hunter is familiar with the Satele family, having played with Brashton's cousin, Samson, at Hawaii. Samson, a center, now plays for the Oakland Raiders and graduated from UH in 2005, meaning Hunter has already played big brother to a Satele.
When asked about the biggest differences between Hawaii and New York, Kia only took a split second to respond.
"The weather and the people, but especially the weather," he said. "That's the biggest thing for me. Hawaii is hot, but here is a different kind of heat. It's a good experience. It's good to experience being off the island and experiencing new things."
Scott Cohen, the Jets' assistant general manager, believes that having a group of players from the Pacific can provide a common bond. In addition to being able to look up to older players on the roster, new Jets like Satele and Kia have the full complement of Jets staff and coaches to help acclimate them to the NFL.
"I think they kind of feed off each other that way with strength in numbers," Cohen said. "I think that there is a little culture shock, but that's where I think guys like [director of player development] Dave Szott, [head athletic trainer] John Mellody and [head strength and conditioning coach Sal Alosi], they do a great job with the whole program of cohesion and getting everybody established."
Besides the Hawaiian players, the Jets have two more players from the South Pacific on the roster. Defensive tackle Sione Pouha is from Tonga while defensive linemen Ropati Pitoitua is from Samoa. Simi Toeaina, who was waived today, is also from Samoa.
"Those guys tend to be really tough, hardworking, loyal, just from their background," Cohen said. "I think a lot of those guys have such raw, explosive ability and strength that when you put them in the right situation and get them the right training that they have here, you can see some of the results."
The Jets have had some success in the past with players from the Pacific, led by eight-year Jets tackle Siupeli Malamala. Through their player personnel staff, including national scout Jim Cochran, they have been very active and creative in finding prospects all over the country, and particularly from the West Coast and beyond.
"I'd say if you have success with a certain type of player you're more willing to go back to it," Cohen said. "I think with Wayne and Sione and Ropati, having success with them, you're more likely to go back to that. I would think just the fact that we have three guys that have made it here, it gives the new guys some confidence or something to help guide them through the process."