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PITA ELISARA may be the son of a preacher man but the Samoan powerhouse will treat Berlin Thunder like Christians being thrown to the lions at Hampden today.

It's win or bust for the Scots gridiron stars after last Sunday's mistake-ridden 31-23 blitz in Berlin and the 300lbs-plus Elisara is thirsting for revenge.

The 6ft 4in offensive tackle admitted: "We should have beaten them last week."

Elisara, who worked as a bouncer to pay his way through college and launch his gridiron career, was allocated to the highly-competitive NFL Europe League by Philadelphia Eagles and it has been a long road to success.

There have been highs and lows, including being released by the New York Giants last year, but he spent the spring with the Las Vegas Outlaws of the XFL, starting eight games.

That helped maintain Elisara's focus and keep him in the frame for a coveted NFL spot. However, it could have been so different for the 23-year-old who grew up on the sun-kissed Pacific island playing rugby.

He has been a stand-out for the Claymores yet his beat in the engine room of Britain's top American football team is a long way from the iron-hard turf of his local park where he starting his sporting career.

Elisara, who has a handshake like a vice, revealed: "I played rugby in school and they put me at lock as I was a big guy and not afraid to put my head into the scrum.

"My dad, who is a minister, used to play too and he was pretty good. One of my brothers was also a wing for a Samoan team who did well at an international tournament in the South Pacific so the game was in my blood.

"I could have made it in rugby but I fell in love with American football through watching in on TV. I couldn't wait to get to high school to play it. Rugby and American football are big back home but we moved to Hawaii and it was then I figured I could make a career in gridiron.

"The only way to do that was to go to California. I gambled and went to Indiana University and the hard work paid off.

"Luckily, most of my brothers were in the Navy and I was able to live with them in San Diego. I also worked as a bouncer and saved enough money to help pay my way through college.

"My dad was really supportive and he's proud of what I'm doing.

"I'm not going to make any promises but every day I go to training and work on getting better.

"That's why they sent me here to get playing time and I've improved a lot despite the fact I'm going in against professional guys."

The Guinness-loving Elisara, who has five brothers and a sister, reckons most people have the wrong handle on gridiron.

He said: "I still have a lot to learn but it's tough on the pitch. People think we have an easy life. Some staff at the hotel I'm staying in say they have real jobs - they work hard.

"They don't see the true nature of football. We have to come out here every day and train hard.

"Each time we go on the pitch we're under scrutiny - tapes are going back to the US so you can't go out there without preparing properly mentally and physically.

"There's a lot of pressure but you can't give in to it. You have to to relax and I do so by being properly prepared to get it right."

And Elisara sounded a Hampden battle cry for this afternoon's crunch.

He said: "It's a huge game but we'll be ready for Berlin. We'll treat them with respect but we should have won last weekend.

"It was bad but you go through adversity all the time in life. Losing makes you want to go out there and do better next time.

"Let's be realistic, you can't expect to win every time. We know we have to play better than last week.

"Berlin know what to expect - it's going to be war and we're going to come out on top.

"It's my first time in Europe and I'm loving it. But it would be the icing on the cake if I could go home with a World Bowl ring.

"The only way we can stay in the race to achieve that dream is to win at Hampden.

"Believe me, we're ready!"
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Title Annotation:Sportsfile
Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Jun 9, 2002
Next Article:ATHLETICS: Youth gets fling at unique event.

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