One signed with the University of Hawaii football team in December, while the other nearly did but ultimately chose not to.
Regardless, cousins Vaifanua Peko and Domata Peko Jr. will each compete for Team Mauka in the 2023 Polynesian Bowl and will be proud to represent their family name. Kickoff is set for 4 p.m. Friday at Kamehameha’s Kunuiakea Stadium.
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Vaifanua Peko is a safety and linebacker hybrid out of Samoana High School in American Samoa and signed his letter of intent with Hawaii during last December’s signing day. His cousin, Domata Peko Jr., committed to UH the night before signing day but chose to explore the rest of his options ahead of his next opportunity to sign on Feb. 1.
For Domata Peko Jr., Hawaii remains in the running for his services. Since then, he’s earned scholarship offers from San Jose State, Utah Tech and Houston Baptist, as well as walk-on offers from Oregon and Oregon State.
“UH is on the top of my recruitment board for me. I’m gonna make my decision Feb. 1, so I’m excited. UH is definitely one of my top choices because of the culture it comes with and I like where their team’s at, kind of a rebuild state where we can develop over the next couple of years there and also having my cousin there, too, it helps a lot with the recruitment,” Peko Jr. said. “Also just being close to Samoa and learning stuff like that, it helps a lot.”
But before that day comes, Peko Jr. is relishing the full Polynesian Bowl week experience: The opportunity to compete with the best while also learning more about his heritage.
“For me, it was cool, just having an opportunity to play with a bunch of players that are high-level and the competition, but also the mental aspect of it. I picked up some things from some of the top athletes in the nation here and also getting to know some of them on a personal level is pretty cool. The Polynesian Cultural Center was nice to not only learn some stuff about Samoa, but other countries and stuff like that so it was really cool and I enjoyed it a lot,” he said.
“Playing my last game in high school sounds crazy to me because I feel I was just a freshman the other day. Getting a chance to finish off my high school career at the Polynesian Bowl and at the beautiful scenery here. … It’s an honor to be able to play here and finish out my high school career and I’m excited for the opportunity.”
As for Peko Jr.’s cousin, Vaifanua Peko is out to prove he belongs on the field on Friday.
“I’m out here to just destroy, for reals,” Peko said. “Look for (jersey No.) 49. I’m about to hit those 5-stars.”
When Peko makes it to campus, he’ll have familiarity with some players on the roster from American Samoa, listing defensive lineman Dean Briski as one of his friends.
Peko hopes his cousin will be one of the players he enters the program with. He’s certainly been persistent about it.
“I’ve tried so many times, but that’s up to him,” Peko said. “I’ll be so happy if he comes to join me at UH.”
On Friday, the Peko cousins will play for family members who blazed their football paths. Domata Peko Jr. is the namesake of 15-year NFL veteran Domata Peko. Domata Peko’s brother, Tupe Peko had stints with seven different NFL teams, while their younger cousin, Kyle Peko, is currently a member of the Las Vegas Raiders.
“For me, this last name means a lot to me,” Vaifanua Peko said. “Uncle played in the NFL, just wanna be like him. Representing the last name means the world to me. The Polynesian Bowl, Peko’s coming out. You better watch out.”
Added Domata Peko Jr.: “For the Polynesian Bowl, it means a lot to me because it’s my first jersey with ‘Peko Jr.’ on the back of it so I’m excited to finally wear a jersey with my last name and for me, I’m excited to have an opportunity to carry on the (Peko) legacy. Me and (Vaifanua), we’re kind of the future of our last name so we have a lot on our shoulders but we definitely can handle it and we’re ready to carry on the legacy over the next couple of years.”