POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Aug 20, 2013
LAST UPDATED: 08:03 p.m. HST, Aug 28, 2013
FIRST IN A EIGHT-PART SERIES
Siasau “Saui” Matagiese was prepared to switch off the mic and exit stage right.
Before Matagiese became a scholarship player, before he became the voice of the Hawaii defensive line, he was squelched by doubt.
As a transfer from Portland State and a walk-on at UH for the 2010 and ’11 seasons, the loquacious Matagiese was grateful to be home with the opportunity to play in front of loved ones. But he also felt anxious; his mind wandered back to his family on Kauai, where his parents shouldered the financial demands of tuition and miscellaneous needs of a college football player.
“A lot of people didn’t know I was even pretty close to stop pursuing football, especially financially when it got hard,” the Waimea High product said. “I knew it was a burden on my family to keep paying. But as much as my mom would have never let me (quit) … I also have a younger sister coming up playing softball. Being the older brother, I don’t want to take anything away from my younger siblings.
“Just with the grace of God and hard work, everything (came together).”
Coach Norm Chow awarded him a scholarship in the spring of 2012, and Matagiese went on to play in 11 of 12 games that fall with eight starts and 21 tackles (two for loss). And his younger sister, Ulu, is an incoming freshman with the 2014 UH softball team, following in the footsteps of their cousin, Jessica Iwata.
Now, the 6-foot-2, 300-pound senior says unequivocally, “Best decision I made in my life was coming home.”
Yet even after Matagiese was awarded his scholarship, many trials awaited. He suffered a helmet-to-helmet hit at BYU in the fourth game of the season and was carted off the field, and missed the next game at San Diego State.
Several members of the D-line were knocked out by season-ending injuries last season, necessitating linemen shuffling to unusual spots in the trenches. Most notably, end Beau Yap moved inside once tackle Moses Samia went down in the home opener against Lamar. The wounded Warriors were routinely gashed for big runs.
“We had some guys who never played D-tackle before play D-tackle. Had some guys who never played D-line before play,” line coach Lewis Powell said. “It was humbling and a good learning experience.”
Though All-MWC second-teamer Paipai Falemalu is gone, as is Haku Correa, the line has returned with a tight-knit sense of brotherhood and a new-found confidence. It’s been bolstered by Matagiese’s leadership, Yap’s return to the edge and a young group headlined by Waianae graduate Kennedy Tulimasealii.
The elders are still responsible for the bulk of the work, and that’s where Matagiese must hold court. When Matagiese speaks, he does so in rapid-fire bursts that demand the listener’s full attention.
He almost always has a captive audience.
“My first time I came in, he would always take me aside, show me this and that,” said nose tackle Calen Friel, who lives with Matagiese. “He’s well-spoken every time. … When he speaks, everybody listens.”
Matagiese was a natural choice as one of two players picked to represent the newly minted Rainbow Warriors at the Mountain West media day last month.
“He kept his cool,” Yap said. Added Friel with a laugh: “He was speaking English.”
When Chow awarded Matagiese his scholarship, the two reached an understanding.
“He told me to make him a promise. That promise was to (be there) to lead this team,” Matagiese said. “When he gave me my scholarship, it helped out my family a lot.
“Every day I try to do something to better the team. Living up to my word, especially because he did the same too.”