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Semeri Ulufale's specialty in football was sacrificing himself. As a wedge buster on kickoffs for the University of Hawaii, "Suicide Sam" would take out two or three blockers so a teammate could make the tackle.

Yesterday, Ulufale's high school sweetheart and mother of his eldest two children tried to make sense of his death. All she could think of was sacrifice.

"He loved his brother so much," Naomi Machado said. "He didn't want him to be by himself."

Ulufale, 46, suffered seizures in his sleep at his home in Makaha and died last Thursday morning just a few hours after his brother, Tali, 44, died Jan. 21 on Maui. It is believed that Tali had a heart attack, but cause of death has yet to be determined for either brother, Machado said.

"Semeri called us and told us about his brother's death and how much he loved him," Machado said. "Next thing, within hours, he left us and they both joined their father."

Tali and Semeri Ulufale played football at Farrington High School in the 1970s for coach Al Espinda.

"They were very aggressive and always prepared," Espinda said. "The brothers were very close."

Semeri went on to letter in football at UH from 1977 to 1979 and in 1981. He made his mark first as a spectacular special-teams player and later as a feared pass rusher from the defensive line. Ulufale was a fan favorite.

"People went to games just to see him run downfield on kickoffs," said former UH coach Bob Wagner, who coached special teams at that time. "He was one of the best special-teams players I ever saw -- so physical and so much spirit."

Ulufale returned to football just five years ago, when he played arena football for the Honolulu Hammerheads at age 41.

"That was so nice because my boys got to see their father play football," Machado said.

Semeri Ulufale's life was not without its rough spots.

He was a union ironworker but injured his back and knee on a job three years ago and was on workers' comp, Machado said.

While at UH, Ulufale was involved in an incident in which he and several football teammates did extensive damage to a restaurant near campus.

"When I met him he was wild. He spent some time in jail," Machado said. "He's made up for that, for sure. He matured, and he took good care of us and did a lot of good deeds for people, some he didn't even know."

In addition to his two sons with Machado (Semeri Jr. and Angel), Semeri had two more sons, Chris-Jordan and Ashton-Jared, and his fiancee, Francine Paaluhi, is expecting another child.

"He did a complete turn-around in the past six years. I only know his good side, and people still recognized him from football," Paaluhi said. "It's hard to understand, because he was healthy."

Tali Ulufale was a private-contract tree trimmer. He had a wife, Gale, and five children, Natisha, Tali Boy, Tatiana, Samson and Safue.

The Ulufale brothers are also survived by many siblings, including another football star, Mike Ulufale, and their mother, Lepaoa.

"She's a strong lady," Machado said. "Can you imagine? When Tali died, Semeri called her three times to tell her he loved her."

Arrangements for Tali and Semeri Ulufale are being handled by Mililani Mortuary. There will be a wake Feb. 9, 5-9 p.m., with burial Feb. 10 at 12:30 p.m.


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