by Jim Gehman
“I had gotten a call from the Arena League. I didn’t know much about the league; I just knew that I wanted to continue to play and that I had a family to support,” Patu said. “So, I had heard about John Elway having a team and I was intrigued about the opportunity. I was thinking it’s a different time than the NFL season and maybe I can try it out and see how it goes and hopefully be prepared for a fall camp for the NFL.”
Patu joined the expansion Colorado Crush in 2003, a franchise co-owned by Elway, the late Denver Broncos owner Pat Bowlen, and Stan Kroenke, who now owns the Los Angeles Rams. While he was technically playing the same game, realistically, it was different.
“I think one of the biggest things was just not knowing, not having any experience with the rules,” Patu said. “The anxiety around the unknown, like how different is it from 11-man football and the outdoor game. And having to re-learn the offensive side of the ball. Because when I came in you had to play both ways.
“After that first year, I had so much fun, I could just play there, and I’ll be fine. I entertained going up to Canada (to play in the CFL) and kind of working my way back to the NFL that way. But I was married with three kids at the time, so it’s not easy to just pick up and roll out like that.”
So, instead of moving north of the border, Patu and his wife, Alana, chose to make their family’s home in Denver. They also chose to make a difference in their adopted community and found the Patu Foundation.
“I always had a desire to give back and I did that my whole life. My parents were big community servants and that’s kind of who I am,” Patu said. “My thoughts coming out of college were if I had the opportunity to have more resources, it’s going to give me the opportunity to just help more people. And so, when that didn’t happen after the Draft, I really thought long and hard, ‘Man, do I need to have a ton of money to do some of the things that I want to do?’ And what I learned was that I didn’t.
“And so my wife and I decided to start a foundation, a non-profit, to leverage the resources that came with my position and my connections with other professional athletes in the city, and be able to bring much needed resources into high-need communities.”
Dissolving the Foundation in order to spend more time with his kids as they grew older didn’t mean that Patu would stop giving back, he just found a different way to do so.
“A lot of my work right now is focused on a program I started called Academic Sports Institute up in Seattle at my alma mater, Rainier Beach High School. It’s a program to help at-risk student-athletes earn scholarships to college,” Patu said.
“I had all my kids in the program. My daughter, Saniah, ended up getting a scholarship to St. Martin’s and then transferred to Valdosta State for basketball. My oldest son, Orin, accepted a scholarship to Cal-Berkley, and is an outside linebacker there. Our other son, Ari, is a (high school) junior, and currently holds multiple (scholarship) offers. And we have an eighth-grader, Kayo.”
Patu, the defensive line coach at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon, also has another project called Mission 10/20. It trains youth football coaches not only the X’s and O’s, but how schedule a practice, how to a game plan, about youth engagement, and how to engage parents.