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FOXBORO — The TV was on, but he couldn’t bear to watch. Too painful.
For Sealver Siliga, the NFL highlights on ESPN only made the feeling worse. Seeing the game reinforced the idea that nobody in the game wanted him. And during a time where he was surrounded by family, Siliga, for a moment, felt all alone.
The defensive tackle was released by the Seattle Seahawks on Oct. 4. He moved back into his parents’ home in West Jordan, Utah. And after multiple tryouts, he hopelessly waited over the next three weeks for a call.
“It (hurt) every day. It got to a point where I didn’t even want to watch ESPN or anything just because it reminded me,” Siliga said. “When that happened, it really hit home. Like, nobody wants me. That really was tough.”
In 2012, he nearly made it. Siliga was on the Denver Broncos’ active roster, but appeared in just one game. It was a step up from 2011, which he spent on the team’s practice squad.
Now, he was out of football. It tested his patience and will. Before the Patriots signed him on Oct. 24, Siliga had too much to lose to give up. He couldn’t let it end. Not with what his family’s been through.
All he had to do was think about his mother, Sinatala, who worked night and day to support her kids. Or what his family suffered in San Bernardino, Calif., and the gang culture that swallowed up his five older brothers.
“All the strength I have (is from my family),” Siliga, 23, said. “I’d be lying if I’d say I’d do this all alone. I couldn’t have done this all alone. If it was just me, I would have quit a long time ago.”
Band of brothers
There’s 634 miles between San Bernardino and West Jordan, Utah, a location that was perfect for Sinatala and Siala Siliga. They wanted better for their family and their youngest, Sealver, who was 1 when West Jordan gave them a place to practice their Mormon faith. It also gave them a chance to escape the city that nearly tore everything apart.
Both parents came to America from Pago Pago, American Samoa, looking for opportunity, but got more than they bargained for in the gang-enriched San Bernardino Valley. By the time they made the move, all five of their oldest sons were entrenched in the gang lifestyle. Two with devastating consequences.
“One of my brothers is in prison for life and the other has passed away,” said Siliga. “The late ’80s, early ’90s, the gang lifestyle in California was on the rise big time. My parents were like, ‘Let’s go to Utah. There are no gang problems over there.’ ”
Siliga never had to look far to see what his life would be like if he made poor choices. He grew up watching his three other brothers — Michael, Sofa and Mo — get out of the lifestyle, and he’s also stayed in contact with his imprisoned brother.
“I write letters and stuff and that’s probably the closest I’ve gotten to him. I haven’t seen him since I was 1 year old,” Siliga said. “He’s been in there a long time. He’s the second oldest. He got caught up deep in the lifestyle and it put him behind bars for life. He’s in there for some bad stuff.”
Michael, Sofa and Mo, who range from 15-20 years older than Sealver, didn’t want their younger brother to make the same mistakes.
“Seeing what they went through, it put a guideline in front of me,” Siliga said. “So I mean, I do this, this is going to happen. If I do the opposite, who knows what’s going to happen?”
Going to Utah didn’t solve everything.
Siliga’s father, who seriously injured both knees, was unable to work so his mother supported a house of seven. Working day and night at Shafter Beverages, she put clothes on her children’s backs and food on their table. She worked so much there were days Siliga didn’t see her. So when it came to football, Siliga worked hard in hopes he could support his family.
University of Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham described Siliga as the type of player a college coach dreams of having. The defensive tackle worked hard to lose 60 pounds so he could play as a true freshman. He quickly became a leader and a force.
“He was really a motivated, driven individual and really wanted to succeed,” Whittingham said. “He had a burning desire to succeed.”
That desire was fueled by his family’s hard times. After his junior year, Siliga turned pro to help his loved ones financially.
“They had some struggles. There’s no doubt,” Whittingham said. “And that’s part of the reason Sealver decided to come out early. One of the primary reasons was so he could help out his family and try to give them some support.”
Siliga earned an opportunity with the Patriots after injuries to Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly. He made the most out of it, finishing with 23 tackles and three sacks in five games. Tonight, he’ll make his postseason debut against the Colts.
It wasn’t easy to get to this point, but Siliga knew if his family could fight through the hard times, so could he.
“It helped me with dedication,” Siliga said. “Even when things look hard, knowing that if I keep pushing, it’ll work out.”