Michael Cornell Cannon Jr, may not be a name we are all familiar with, but this young Cook Islander has just begun his dream of playing at the top level of American football by gaining a scholarship to play American Football at a High School in Utah.
That big NFL dream may be a way off yet, but the likes of Jordan Mailata’s epic rise to fame gives hope to this young Cook Islander working towards his dream.
“I am very proud of my Cook Island Heritage and my Papa Turuariki Teao from Nikaupara, along with my Nana Lily Manu from Amuri have encouraged me and taught Cook Island traditions to me from birth,” Michael says.
“I visited the islands of Rarotonga and Aitutaki a few years back and look forward to visiting more in the future.
“I come from a very large Cook Islands family who are strongly connected to our culture no matter how far away we live.”
Michael says most of his Cook Islands family migrated from the Cook Islands and settled in Tokoroa, New Zealand.
“Many say Tokoroa is the second Aitutaki or the 16th island of the Cook Islands.”
He was born in Sydney, Australia and relocated permanently to Auckland, New Zealand when he was three.
His father, Michael Cornell Cannon Sr, is of African-American descent from North Carolina USA and his mother, Lily Teao Cannon, is a Cook Islander from Aitutaki and the villages of Amuri and Nikaupara.
Michael says his grandmother, Evelyn Cannon from Kinston North Carolina USA, is a single mum to his father and two other siblings.
“He always told me to keep my head up, give 100 per cent when I want to achieve something and always aim high with a humble heart through God.
“My football journey truly started when I was two years old. My dad played for the Papatoetoe Wildcats and I used to love watching and mimicking him and football scenes from movies such as the Gridiron Gang, The Replacements, Friday Nights Lights and more. When I turned 14, I was finally old enough to play and signed up with the South Auckland Raiders.
“It was an awesome season and we made it to the finals. After this season, my family relocated permanently to Tokoroa and as the distance was not workable for us I could no play the next season.
“When I turned 16 I decided to play for the Hamilton Hawk Juniors and although Hamilton was a one-hour drive each way, I was determined to play, so the travel was not a concern.
“In July 2018 I played in the All Stars Game, gaining a spot on the New Zealand squad to attend the Down Under Bowl in Australia, representing New Zealand,” says Michael.
“It was a lifetime opportunity and I gained rewarding knowledge from this opportunity. The positions I play are guard and defensive tackle and being on the front line is an experience in itself.”
It was while he was at the Down Under Bowl that Michael was picked out by a high school coach from Layton Christian Academy in Utah, USA.
“The opportunity was to play my senior year of high school for them and it was an opportunity I could not turn down,” says Michael.
“I have been in Utah for over a month now and my focus right now is to build my mindset and confidence to be a great player and show commitment to my team and coaches. I still have some learning to do, as this is a whole new venture for me.
“My ultimate goal is to play my best, give it my all and gain a spot in a college roster after my senior year here in Layton, Utah USA. I believe and trust my experience to play college ball will build and structure a great future and if this means gaining a spot on an NFL team like Jordan Mailata has just done, then God has my back and success has come my way.
“I have so many people to thank for being here playing football in the USA but none more than my Mum and Dad, and I love representing my Cook Islands culture wherever I am.”