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'Junior Seau meant so much to me and many other Samoan youth'

Junior Seau wasn't the first Samoan American player in the NFL, but he was considered a role model among many of those who followed him into pro football. Seau, 43, was found dead this afternoon in his Oceanside, Calif. home from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest.

Born in San Diego to parents from American Samoa, Seau was a star linebacker who in his career played for the San Diego Chargers, the Miami Dolphins and the New England Patriots. In 1994, he helped lead the Chargers to the Super Bowl. He retired in 2010 but remained an icon in his hometown, where last fall was inducted into the San Diego Chargers Hall of Fame.

He's also one of a long line of Samoan American players in the NFL, several of whom followed Seau's career path from the USC Trojans to the professional teams.

Among the many tributes that have taken place online in the last few hours, one message posted to Twitter by a younger NFL player of Samoan descent was especially moving.

Troy Polamalu of the Pittsburgh Steelers, a fellow California native who like Seau played for USC before being drafted by Pittsburgh, tweeted from his official account:

Here's the extended message that Polamalu's tweet linked to:

I am deeply saddened by the events that have transpired today. My heartfelt condolences and sympathy go out to his family.

Junior Seau meant so much to me and many other Samoan youth both as a player and person. Junior epitomized hard work and dedication to football and philanthropy.

He was a childhood hero of mine and honored to say, a good friend. Junior Seau will always be someone I look up to and will walk the path he paved for me and many other Trojans, Samoans, and athletes alike.

ESPN has compiled a touching series of other tweets from fellow athletes who are mourning Seau's death today.