Four years after claiming the first-ever Cover2 Manti Teo Award as state high school football defensive player of the year, Lahainalua graduate Hercules Mataafa is on the doorstep of the National Football League.
The Washington State All-American, who declared for the NFL Draft as a junior this past December, enters the seven-round, life-altering event as one of the most prolific pass-rushers in all of college football over the last three years.
Now, Hercules’ prophecy is about to become the profession.
The 2018 NFL Draft gets underway with the first round on Thursday at 2 p.m. HST on KHON2.
Rounds two and three will take place on Friday and air on KHON2. The final four rounds will run on Saturday and will be available on the NFL Network.
In grade school back in 2005, a young Mataafa wrote a letter to his teacher, claiming that he wanted to be a defensive end in the NFL because he liked sacking the quarterback.
Not much has changed since then. After finishing eighth in the nation in sacks last year as a consensus All-American, Mataafa is slated to write his dreams into stone this week with the NFL Draft.
“It was always a dream of mine to play in the NFL and now it’s right here knocking on the door, so I’m real excited about that,” Mataafa told KHON2 Sports.
“I grew up playing backyard football the times I wasn’t able to play Pop Warner because I couldn’t pay the ticket,” he added. “I grew up in a financially poor situation and the roots always came back to football. That’s what kept me out of trouble. That’s what kept me out of a lot of things, and I’m excited to finally pursue my dream that started from a little kid.”
Despite his incredible on-field success with the Cougars with 121 total tackles, 45.5 tackles for loss, and 21 sacks in 34 career games, Mataafa is a big question mark regarding where he will land in the draft.
At 6 feet 2 inches and 254 pounds, he is considered a smaller pass-rusher by NFL standards, but by that measure, he was considered small at the collegiate level as well.
“I’ve been denied my whole life and it’s not really fronting me now,” Mataafa said. “So all of the second guesses, one team is going to be lucky and 31 teams aren’t. Whoever picks me up, I’m going to be extremely grateful and loyal to whoever picks me up and I’m going to help them try to win a championship.”
NFL.com has Hercules projected as a fifth-round draft choice, but mock drafts by multiple publications have him going anywhere from the third to the seventh round.
Mataafa is not the only Hawaii-born PAC-12 standout from 2017 to be a draft hopeful.
Kealakehe graduate Manase Hungalu of Oregon State, who amassed 97 tackles, five sacks, and two interceptions with the Beavers, is a projected as a late-round or free agent pickup.
The University of Hawaii has three draft hopefuls with defensive back Trayvon Henderson, running back Diocemy Saint Juste, and offensive lineman Dejon Allen.