Four years after becoming Hawaii High School Football’s all-time career rushing leader, Mililani graduate and USC running back Vavae Malepeai enters his redshirt junior season aiming to take the starting spot in one of college football’s most storied positions.
Malepeai, who in his first two active seasons has averaged over five yards per carry with eight touchdowns in a reserve role, enters 2019 in the running with fellow prep All-Americans Stephen Carr and Markese Stepp to be the primary ball-carrier for the Trojans.
Five players in program history have won the Heisman Trophy at the tail back position, making it such a prestigious role.
“It’s what I’m working for, it’s what I’ve always worked for. I’m ready to step up. You put in all the work to be the guy, and I’m excited with what the offense can do this season, and I’m just excited to compete with my brothers. We’ll all get better from it, and our team will be better because of it,” Malepeai told KHON2 Sports Director Rob DeMello.
As a senior in high school for the Trojans of Mililani, Malepeai put the finishing touch on a career of 4,549 yards rushing, which broke Iolani’s Joe Igber’s mark of 4,428 yards set in 1998, earning Cover2 Mariota Award honors as state player of the year. Ahead of his junior season with the Trojans of USC, Malepeai doesn’t overlook the magnitude of his mission and embraces the pressure that comes along with it.
“I try to just get comfortable being uncomfortable if that makes sense. There’s a place you want to be that’s kind of a finding a balance where you’re comfortable enough so that you can play, and play fast, and play to the best of your ability, but you don’t want to get complacent,” said Malepeai. “As far as taking the field and stuff like that, that never really gets old, it’s like, have a little fun with everything, and enjoy it like how it was when I was a little kid.”
An added motivation for Malepeai this season, is the inspiration that comes from his former Mililani teammate McKenzie Milton. The UCF quarterback who was a Heisman Trophy contender, suffered a late-season dislocated knee, and is currently going through an intensive rehab in hopes of one day returning to the field. According to Malepeai, he’ll play this season with Milton in mind.
“I feel like it’s a matter of taking nothing for granted. Using every opportunity I have to make the most of it, and I’m for sure thinking of him all the time. Just like how I think of my family, my little brothers, my sisters. He’s family to me. Every time I take the field there’s always, you’re always going to have days where you’re feeling good, and some days you don’t feel like taking the field, and when those hard days come, he’s the kind of people I think about,” said Malepeai.
USC will open training camp in late July, with the Trojans opening their 2019 season against Fresno State on August 31.