JACOB MOORE | Evergreen sports editor
Let’s say the Cougs are having trouble. They lose one — maybe two games and the team atmosphere is poor, like it was at the start of last season. Redshirt junior defensive line Hercules Mata’afa isn’t the type of guy to offer an inspirational speech to boost team spirit.
For him, actions speak louder than words.
“I’m not very outspoken when it comes to all that,” Mata’afa said. “When I’m out on the field, I just like to play. So hopefully, my playing will get other people around me to play better.”
One of Mata’afa’s greatest memories happened in the second half of last year’s game against Oregon.
The play clock ticked down with over seven minutes left in the third quarter. Mata’afa fought his way through the offensive line, sacking then-quarterback Dakota Prukop. Cougar fans threw their hands up in glee as the referees did the same to symbolize a safety.
“When I got it, I heard everybody chanting my name, ‘Hercules,’ right after the play was made,” he said. “So, that was probably one of the biggest moments in my career.”
Mata’afa grew up with a lot of kids in the house. When you come from an athletic family with six siblings, it’s not uncommon to see a little roughhousing, he said. And when your first name is Hercules, it’s almost expected.
The self-described goofy and unfiltered athlete graduated from Lahainaluna High School in Lahaina, Hawaii, playing football, as he said, “the way it’s supposed to be played.”
Competing with a WSU jersey is no different for Mata’afa. His technique, his game-day preparations, his dreams — almost none of that has changed.
Before a game, the sociology major likes to sit alone and listen to reggae music. His pre-game playlist includes Bob Marley, J Boog and Fiji.
“I’m from the islands,” he said, “so that’s popular music back where I’m from.”
On his days off from football, the 6-foot-2-inch, 252-pound athlete spends his time simply relaxing.
“Sometimes, our body gets put to work so much,” Mata’afa said. “Getting that time off is just chill. You get to get your rest, let your body rest.”
Fans should not be surprised to see the athlete in the ice cream aisle at Walmart.
“I love that ice cream, man,” he said. “So yeah, a whole gallon. I usually go to Walmart, buy like three Ben and Jerry’s half-pints. Can’t beat that.”
As for his dreams, Mata’afa — like many football players — wants to compete in the NFL. He isn’t picky about which franchise, though. If he gets drafted, he’ll go wherever the opportunity opens up.
Coaching fits somewhere in that aspiration. Regardless of when, Mata’afa wants to eventually become a leader on the sideline like the leader he is on the scrimmage line.
“Then after that, I hope to give back to my community,” he said. “Probably coach back home and tell my story to the younger generation.”
Until then, the player is focusing on the now. The defensive line’s goal is simple — he wants to help WSU finish on top of all Pac-12 teams this season.
“We just need to take it one game at a time,” Mata’afa said. “I want that Pac-12 championship. So, we need to get a ring for that.”