Let’s address this up front.
Yes, Spokane Shock offensive lineman Chris Pino looks like ‘The Rock,’ wrestler/actor Dwayne Johnson. Yes, strangers mention this to Pino every day. Yes, it used to bug him but now he plays along, occasionally joking, ‘I don’t look like The Rock, he looks like me.’ When hanging out with teammates, Pino has been known to elevate an eyebrow in Rock-like fashion.
“After this is all over,” Pino said, “maybe I can be his stunt double.”
At present, Pino is pretty much the rock on the Shock’s offensive line. With Shannon Tevaga and Palauni Ma Sun on injured reserve and Laupepa Letuli at Dallas Cowboys training camp, Pino is being counted on even more as the fourth-seeded Shock (9-9) visit No. 1 Arizona (16-2) on Friday to open the playoffs.
This is Pino’s second stint with the Shock. He was a mainstay last season as Spokane went 6-2 before Pino joined Montreal in the CFL. He was in the B.C. Lions training camp this season, but was released in what he believes was a numbers game. CFL rosters limit the number of non-Canadian players and those spots typically are used for positions other than offensive line.
Pino fielded calls from San Jose, Utah and Spokane. He’s been in the Shock lineup since returning roughly a month ago.
“The fans are amazing here,” he said. “It wasn’t a hard decision.”
The tougher decisions for Pino go back nearly a decade, when he was a standout tight end/defensive lineman at El Camino High in Oceanside, Calif. He verbally committed to Fresno State, but decided to step away from football when his mother was diagnosed with colon cancer.
Pino got the itch to return to the game when his mother responded well to chemotherapy. He initially didn’t want to go the junior college route, but he warmed to the idea because it kept him close to home.
He attended Palomar, but the program was stocked with defensive linemen. An assistant coach suggested he try offensive line. Pino preferred hitting quarterbacks, but the coach promised he could turn Pino “into a machine” in three weeks.
“He was right,” Pino said. “I started liking it.”
Pino was ranked as the fifth best J.C. lineman by one scouting service, sparking interest from traditional powers Ohio State and USC. He chose San Diego State to be near family. His parents are from American Samoa. His father, who was in the Marines for 21 years, has nine siblings and his mother has 15 brothers and sisters.
“My mom is cancer free and she’s my No. 1 fan,” Pino said. “When the family gets together, it’s one big party. People are amazed; they think it’s just friends of the family and we’re like, ‘No, it’s all family.’ ”
Pino spent time with the Washington Redskins and Baltimore Ravens in 2006-07 before joining AFL San Jose in 2008. He will turn 29 next month. His playing days and NFL hopes are probably fading but he’s not ready to call it quits. CFL teams and UFL Omaha called recently and Pino would love one more crack at the NFL.
“I’ve had a couple surgeries here and there,” he said. “I can still play, but it’s starting to catch up with me. In NFL years, (28) is old.”
Pino quickly bonded in Spokane with fellow Samoans Tevaga, Ma Sun and Letuli.
“We’re all taught the same way: God first and family,” Pino said. “Edwin Mulitalo was a guard in Baltimore when I was there. I’d never met him before, but he came and gave me a hug, took me to his house and let me borrow his car. That’s what we do. We take care of each other. I didn’t know Tevaga, now we’re like brothers.”
Pino doesn’t know The Rock, the former University of Miami defensive lineman whose mother is Samoan, but he’d like to put his own spin on one of wrestler’s signature moves. One of arena football’s charms is the screen pass to a 320-pound lineman who rumbles downfield while 180-pound defensive backs dive at the his ankles. Pino has four receptions, one for a touchdown.
“I’ve told my teammates to stay away from me if I score because I was going to drop the ‘People’s Elbow,’ ” Pino said. “That’s one of the Rock’s moves where he throws his elbow pad into the crowd and drops his elbow on the other guy. I’m going to drop my elbow on the football.”