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Monday, September 1, 2003



[ NFL FOOTBALL ]



Fuamatu-Ma‘afala
and 8 others with
isle ties released

With depth at running back, the
Steelers cut the Saint Louis alum


Pittsburgh running back Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala, once a valuable backup to Jerome Bettis, was among nine players with local ties released over the weekend as NFL teams reached the 53-man roster limit.

The other eight were former University of Hawaii linebacker Chris Brown of the Baltimore Ravens, Dallas running back Adrian Murrell, Denver quarterback Nick Rolovich, Arizona center Steven Grace, Indianapolis offensive tackle Makoa Freitas, Oakland offensive lineman Joe Wong, and Seattle kicker Mat McBriar and offensive guard Kaulana Noa.

San Diego placed offensive guard Toniu Fonoti on injured reserve. The 350-pound lineman by way of Kahuku High and Nebraska, will miss the entire season. He was slowed by triceps and foot injuries. He started 14 games as a rookie last year.

Fuamatu-Ma'afala was one of six let go by the Pittsburgh Steelers. A physical, but oft-injured 254-pound power runner, the former Saint Louis School player became expendable after the Steelers made the transition from a run-oriented offense to a passing team last season.

He went into camp as the No. 3 running back behind Amos Zereoue, now the starter, and Bettis, only to see second-year runner Verron Haynes pass him on the depth chart. After rushing for 453 yards in 2001, when Bettis was injured for much of the second half of the season, Fuamatu-Ma'afala was limited to 115 yards on 23 carries in only eight games last year.

He missed part of the season with rib cage and pectoral muscle injuries, then injured a hamstring on the opening kickoff of the Steelers' third preseason game last month. He also had hamstring injuries in 1998 and 1999, a fractured hand in 1999 and a fractured foot in 2000.

"It's been very tough because he's been an integral part of this team," coach Bill Cowher said. "If you look at where we are with Amos and Jerome and with the emergence of Verron Haynes, it's hard to see, at this point, where he fits on the field."

Fuamatu-Ma'afala, a sixth-round pick from Utah in 1998, was in the final year of a $2.7 million, three-year contract he agreed to after the New England Patriots signed him to an offer sheet following the 2000 season.

The Steelers talked to several teams about trading Fuamatu-Ma'afala, but couldn't work out a deal.

Murrell may have a chance to work out a deal as well. The former Leilehua High back, who played for West Virginia, hasn't been in the league for two seasons. He played for Dallas head coach Bill Parcells during their days with the New York Jets. Murrell was in the league from 1993 to 2000 with the Jets, Arizona Cardinals and Washington Redskins.

Murrell could return, but it wouldn't be until after the second week because of a rule that guarantees the contracts of vested veterans on the roster the first week of the season. That rule also is likely to prevent the Dallas Cowboys from trying to sign a veteran cornerback to help bolster their suddenly shaky depth there.

In Denver, the only players with Hawaii ties to survive are veteran place-kicker Jason Elam and second-year wideout Ashley Lelie. Earlier in training camp, the Broncos sent McBriar to Seattle and yesterday they let go of Rolovich for a second consecutive season. Rolovich ended up with the Rhein Fire in Europe this past spring. He and fellow quarterback Jarious Jackson were part of 16 players released by the Broncos.

Brown knew over the weekend he was part of the cutdown of the Baltimore Ravens. He and fellow UH linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa, who will start for the St. Louis Rams this Sunday, were the two top tacklers for the Warriors last season.

Noa, who was released by Seattle yesterday, was originally selected by the Rams in the fourth round of the 1999 draft. He was part of a successful NFL trend for UH lineman. Veterans Kynan Forney of Atlanta and New England's Adrian Klemm played for UH offensive line coach Mike Cavanaugh.

Forney was drafted in the seventh round of the 2000 draft by the Falcons. Klemm was selected by the Patriots in the second round of the 1999 draft. Both survived yesterday's mandatory cuts.

Cavanaugh can boast of two offensive rookie linemen who made the cut as well. They are Jacksonville guard Vince Manuwai and Seattle tackle Wayne Hunter, both third-round picks.

Manuwai joins fellow local boy Chris Naeole, who will play for Jacksonville this season as well. The former Colorado lineman by way of Kahuku High was the 10th overall pick in the 1997 draft by the New Orleans Saints.

A pair of offensive linemen who prepped at Kamehameha and matriculated to Arizona weren't so lucky. Steven Grace was cut by the Cardinals after playing one game for them last season. Makoa Freitas, a sixth-round pick by the Colts this year, was also released.

Former UH running back James Fenderson found out yesterday he's still a Saint. The free-agent signee out of Mililani High enters his third campaign with New Orleans. He will back up Deuce McAllister and continue his role on special teams.

McBriar wasn't as fortunate with Seattle. The former UH punter was let go by the Seahawks. Oakland also released Wong, who is well-traveled since leaving the UH football team to join Brigham Young in 1996. Wong, by way of Kailua High, was drafted by Miami in 1999 and released that same season. The Raiders picked him up this offseason.



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