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Tonga's first ever NFL player recalls humble beginnings in New Zealand

Tonga's first ever NFL player, Vai Sikahema, is known for a storied career in football and broadcasting but not many know about the time he spent growing up here.

From selling fruit in Tonga to the Big Apple, one moment against the New York Giants made Sikahema a Philadelphia legend.

The two-time Pro Bowler is now in Auckland looking for talent to develop as part of his Hawaii-based programme that puts kids in front of top university scouts.

“Those scholarships are worth anywhere from a $150,000 to 200,000 - even $300,000 American dollars,” he says.

Also here are two-time Super Bowl winner Ma'a Tanuvasa and another former Eagle, Reno Mahe.

Meeting talent at Mangere's Southern Cross Campus, these kids have more in common with Sikahema than they think.

Before moving to the US, he came to New Zealand as a child - his parents selling wood from the walls of their home just to get here.

"Board by board he was selling wood and when we left to come to New Zealand. a quarter of our home was completely open," he says.

He's immensely grateful for his achievements and delights in giving back. 

During a 25-year career as a news anchor in Philadelphia, also a Tongan first, he profiles foster children to find them a home.

Super Bowl winner Barrett Brooks famously revealed Sikahema gave him his first pair of football shoes while waiting for autographs.

“He was wearing a pair of shoes that was clearly too small for his feet. So he has taken a razor and he'd cut the toes, the top of the shoe off,” Sikahema recalled.

Brooks added: “He said, 'Come on, man. Come with me.' So he walks me in,” Brooks says.

He's passionate about doing the same for kids back in New Zealand, with plans to visit annually.

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Before moving to the US, he came to New Zealand as a child - his parents selling wood from the walls of their home just to get here. Source: 1 NEWS