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Wednesday, May 15, 2013
DE Maloata's unique journey to USC

By Johnny Curren

CORONA, Calif. -- Looking out over the pristine turf field at Corona (Calif.) Centennial just prior to the team’s recent “College Showcase” -- an amped-up version of spring practice that attracted more than 30 coaches from some of the top football programs in the country – it was easy to notice Austin Maloata staring with a sense of wonder.

Having moved to the mainland in March from American Samoa, the Class of 2014 defensive end has undergone a meteoric rise from complete unknown to highly publicized USC pledge. And now, everything – even the artificial playing surface in front of him – can be a lot to take in at times.

Troy Polamalu
Following in the path of his idol, Troy Polamalu, 2014 DE Austin Maloata has committed to USC.
“Back in Samoa, we don’t have turf or any of this stuff,” said Maloata, who prepped at Leone High School in Pago Pago prior to his arrival in Southern California. “We play on rocks. There’s practices where you get tackled, and you get up and your knee is all bloody. So coming here to Centennial and feeling the turf here, it was shocking. Kids over here, they have all of the sleds, they have all the bags, they have turf … they have everything. In Samoa, we use the actual players themselves as tackling dummies.”

It’s that background, marked by unforgiving physicality, that Maloata believes gives him an edge over many of his counterparts, and he just might have a point. After all, the success of native Samoans, both in the college ranks as well as the NFL, has been well documented.

With little recruiting attention coming his way following his junior season, however, Maloata and his father, Faleupolu, decided that he’d have a better shot at gaining notice almost 5,000 miles away in Corona, where he now resides with an uncle, as well as his two older brothers, Faleupolu Jr. and Tuivasa, both of whom attend and play football at Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut, Calif.

Still, Maloata and his father never imagined their plan would play out in such dramatic fashion.

Possessing a 6-foot-3, 250-pound frame to go along with tremendous explosiveness and strength, Maloata caught the attention of the USC coaches during a workout earlier this month, and by the next night he had verbally committed to the Trojans. For Maloata, who takes great pride in his Samoan heritage and grew up idolizing the large number of Polynesian standouts at USC, it was the realization of a dream.

“I’ve been a USC fan ever since I was young, since about sixth grade,” said Maloata, who also holds offers from Arizona State, Ole Miss and San Jose State. “After watching Troy Polamalu, Rey Maualuga and all of those guys, it inspired me to want to play at USC.”

And it was a little more than a year ago, as a participant in Polamalu’s football camp in American Samoa, that Maloata got to meet his heroes up close.

“I was at the Troy Polamalu camp, and I actually won the defensive line challenge,” Maloata said. “I met Troy and Rey, and it was a really good experience. Me meeting Troy, I was like, ‘Wow, this is the safety from USC, and I’m actually shaking his hand!’ It was a true honor. He stays humble, and I try to be like him and Rey. They’re humble, but when they’re on the field, they’re beasting.”

With his college decision out of the way, Maloata has been able to focus more attention on transitioning to life in his new environment. And thanks to his confident, even-keeled nature, plus the family around him -- cousin Viane Talamaivao is an ESPN 150 guard who also attends Centennial -- it’s gone smoother than expected.

“I thought that he might be a little overwhelmed with school and football and everything, but he just stepped right in and he seems to be loving it,” said Centennial coach Matt Logan. “He’s almost a leader type, and the kids have really rallied around him, so it’s been great.”

On the field, playing in a defense with brand-new responsibilities and schemes, Maloata has adjusted just as quickly, emerging as a key piece of the puzzle for a loaded Centennial squad. The best part, according to Logan, is that Maloata hasn’t even begun to tap his full potential.

“I think the fact that he’s going to be in a more structured lifting program now, he’s going to blow up,” said Logan, who has plans to use Maloata at defensive end and defensive tackle. “I think that he’s probably going to put on 20 pounds by the time the season rolls around, and he’ll be an even stronger, faster version of himself.”

Having come so far already, it’s no wonder that those at Centennial hold such lofty expectations when it comes to his future. But for Maloata, who is well aware of what he potentially represents for those still playing on the rock-laden fields back on his home island, they still pale in comparison to the hopes that he holds for himself.

“From day one since I’ve been here, I’ve been focused and I’ve got it in my heart that I came here for one thing, and that’s to do great things,” Maloata said. “I want to leave a name for Polys here -- that not only kids here can make it, but kids in Samoa can too.”