[ ARENA FOOTBALL ]
move paying off
Kalani Muagututia returns to
Fresno to face his old team
Halakilangi Muagututia will wear a visitors jersey for the Hawaiian Islanders' road game against the Central Valley Coyotes today, but he might feel more at home in Fresno's Selland Arena than he would in Honolulu.
Muagututia spent more than half of the arenafootball2 season as a member of the Coyotes and he'll have his wife and parents in the stands for today's game. But there's no question where his allegiance lies for the West Division contest.
Islanders at Central Valley
When: Today, 4:30 p.m. HST
Where: Selland Arena, Fresno, Calif.
Radio Live, KUMU2 1500-AM
"I'm an Islander now," Muagututia said. "I've got a lot of friends on the team, but I have to treat this as another game."
Muagututia, who prefers to be called Kalani, played nine games with the Coyotes this season before joining the Islanders last month and has helped solidify the Islanders' secondary as a defensive specialist.
The Islanders (8-6) are looking to sweep the four-game season series with the Coyotes (1-13) and stay in the hunt for an af2 playoff berth. Kickoff is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. Hawaii time.
The Islanders might have been simply playing out the string in their final two games of the regular season had it not been for Muagututia's play at the end of last week's thrilling 62-59 home win over Louisville.
Louisville threatened to steal the game away by moving the ball to the Islanders' 4 with 16.7 seconds left. After Fire quarterback Matt Sauk spiked the ball to stop the clock, Muagututia broke up a pass at the goal line with 5 seconds left. He then tipped away a pass intended for Louisville's Tony Stallings in the back of the end zone on the final play of the game.
While Muagututia is a relative newcomer to the team, the Islanders were already familiar with his ability to make big plays, having played against him twice this season.
"He was probably one of the hardest (defensive specialists) we've faced," Islanders receiver/cornerback Anthony Arceneaux said. "He anticipates your route well. The second the ball is released, he's breaking on it fast. So even if you do win the route and catch the ball, you'll get tackled right where you are.
"It's a plus having him on the team for defense, but also for offense, too, because we don't have to face him."
Muagututia played with Chicago and Las Vegas of the Arena Football League last year and tallied 27 tackles with the Coyotes this season. But he didn't feel Central Valley was a good fit for him and asked for his release. When he became available, the Islanders wasted little time signing him.
"We knew about him before, and when his name was out there we immediately went after him," Islanders coach Cal Lee said.
"He's been a tremendous asset to the team. Not only his athletic ability, but he seems to fit in with all the guys here. It's just like a family member returning from the mainland."
Muagututia's' wife, Lenora, is home in Concord, Calif., and is expecting the couple's first child next month. She will drive southeast to Fresno for the game, while Muagututia's parents are heading north from Los Angeles.
Muagututia said he'd like to be home helping Lenora prepare for their child's arrival, but is looking at his time with the Islanders as an investment toward the future.
"Whatever team I play on the main goal is to get good film and play hard so you get looked at by Arena 1 or the NFL or whatever," Muagututia said. "I'd rather be over there taking care of (Lenora), but for me to get a better job next year and better pay I need to get good film and hopefully I get a shot."
Call me Al: While Muagututia will play against his former team, the Islanders will face a former coach today. Former University of Hawaii defensive lineman Al Noga joined the Coyotes at midseason and has 4.5 tackles in three games.
Noga, an Associated Press All-American in 1986, played in the NFL and AFL and was an assistant coach with the Islanders in their first af2 season in 2002.
"It's like the student against the teacher," Islanders lineman Andy Ramos said. "But I'm going to go there and think he's just another guy across from me and I just have to block."
Looking for help: An Islanders win coupled with a San Diego win over Bakersfield would give the Islanders a shot at retaining the West Division title. But the coaches and players will do their best to keep their minds from wandering toward San Diego.
"We have no control over that and there's no one else to blame but ourselves," Lee said. "What we can do is focus in and make sure we take care of business. Whatever happens in the other game, we'll just deal with it, whether Bakersfield wins or San Diego wins."