The Minnesota Vikings wrapped up the final session of OTA's this week. These three voluntary workouts have been long awaited by one player in particular - Maui's Hercules Mata'afa, who tore his ACL at OTA's last year.
2018 was Mata'afa's rookie season. the Lahainaluna and Washington State grad was just trying to make the team after going undrafted. Exactly a year later, he's back and fully recovered. The defensive lineman has put on over 25 pounds as he tries to keep up with the size of NFL defenses. Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer described him as the surprise of camp so far.
"It was hard; the first time I went a full year without football in a long time," said Mata'afa. "I really took it hard at first. But then I just stuck to the mindset (of) I'm going to come back for next years OTA's. Try to show up and be a contributor to this team. I feel like fifty percent of it was all mental. Trusting and being able to plant on my foot and stuff like that. It was a real process and our training staff did a great job of keeping me around and getting me right for this offseason."
Mata'afa didn't return home over this past year, choosing instead to stay in Minnesota and rehab, all with the hopes of making the team this season.
"The hardest part was staying focused," said Mata'afa. "Being in Minnesota year-round this past year without getting to go home was for this purpose of being able to play football at the highest level."
"His body-lean is extremely low, "said Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer. "He's got a great first step. He's still got. Long ways to go now. Let's not put him in Canton yet."
Before Hercules can think about a Hall of Fame career, he needs to make sure he is big enough to match up with NFL offensive lines - a critique that has followed him since leaving college. He played defensive line in college, then was switched to linebacker briefly with Minnesota last year. Now he's back to playing defensive tackle for the Vikings. He'll be back with the team at mandatory minicamp which starts next Tuesday.
"I feel good. The weight isn't really problem right now," said Mata'afa. "It's mostly getting plays down, being aligned right. Right now it's just trying to get fundamentally sound and we'll go from there."
Mata'afa said that his mother was considering naming him either Anthony or Hercules. He said he's glad he's not an Anthony because the Vikings already have a good player by that name on their roster - Pro-Bowler Anthony Barr.
"I was the heaviest baby out of the bunch," Mata'afa continued. "I got seven siblings. I ended up being the biggest baby out of the bunch and she (Mom) said that's a Hercules, so that's how I ended up."