Honolulu Star Bulletin Article
By the numbers
Campbell's standout offensive tackle Masifilo is also adept at math and physics
ONCE UPON a time, a nervous, young fifth-grade boy arrived in a faraway place, wondering what would happen to him at his new school.
Jin Lee had just begun his new life, one far removed from his former home in Kalihi. Ewa Elementary School was: a) in a hot, breezeless place; b) in a town a lot different from urban Honolulu, and c) chock full of strangers. He noticed another fifth-grader, a huge kid. The biggest one he'd ever seen in an elementary school.
His name was Matt.
Jin, the new Korean kid, didn't know what to make of Matthew Masifilo. He wasn't just a towering presence. He was also a cool guy.
"We always knew Matt was gonna be great, but I thought he was gonna be a scientist. He's one of the smartest guys I know," Jin said.
Seven years since they met, Jin is an offensive guard and 6-foot-2 1/2, 250-pound Matt is a tackle for a standout offensive line at Campbell High School.
SOME TEAMMATES CALL him "Monsterfilo" when they feel brave enough to poke fun.
"I'm gonna get in trouble for that," Lee worried.
The nickname fits only in the sense that Masifilo is both a protector, which is the trait of a great offensive lineman, and an attacker, because he prefers the defensive side of the ball. Off the field, however, he is still the same kid who took a stranger under his considerable wing and made the nervousness dissipate.
What is it in the mind and heart of a fifth-grader that would compel him to befriend a newcomer at school? It isn't really unusual. What makes it unique is that Matthew Masifilo, now being recruited by 13 Division I schools (at last count), was at Ewa Elementary by choice. He loved the school early on, opting to stay there when another school, Holomua, was built near his family's home.
He was in second grade at the time.
"My mom (Tina) and dad (Etika) didn't insanely push me about school. The new school was brand new with nice things, computers, stuff like that," Masifilo recalled. "My teachers at Ewa made learning fun. They really made me interested in learning. It wasn't just textbooks. I just liked Ewa Elementary so much."
So he remained there, engrossed with learning, hovering about camps, befriending athletes and nerds alike because, well, that's what he was.
HE TOWERS OVER his peers, a young man of Polynesian extraction, articulate, bright, scholarly, talented in sports. He has the natural gift of bringing people together, but loves a good discussion -- and debate -- about most anything. That may sound like a certain mayor who went on to play basketball at Harvard, but Masifilo doesn't intend to become the next Mufi Hannemann.
Stanford has written. So have Cal and a handful of other Pac-10 schools. Hawaii has offered an early scholarship, but of the 13 offers he has, Masifilo likes Stanford a little more than the others. Cal is second on his list, but he isn't going to rush into a commitment.
He loves analysis. Math. Physics. Numbers register in his mind. They mean something to him. Well, they mean a lot. A semester ago, his grade-point average was 3.95. He's quick to mention that it is now 4.0 thanks to success in AP classes.
This is, after all, the guy who once told a reporter that anybody who tries hard in sports, but is lazy about academics is "two-faced."
That quote, in a Star-Bulletin story, went up on the front door of Campbell's office.
Being a nerd, then beloved by school administrators, normally won't score points in some teenage circles. But Masifilo doesn't fret much about the masses.
Ah, the masses. Masifilo is unafraid to say that Campbell fans are quick to cheer and equally quick to jeer. They expect the world, and Masifilo hopes the Sabers, who are off to a 2-0 start, can bring exactly that.
IT'S A SUNDAY morning. The family is ready to head to church, a relatively short drive to Pearl City. It is not Masifilo's thing. Makes sense. How many rational, logical thinkers embrace things unseen, especially at such a young age? The tenets and mandates of his parents to work hard in everything, to study with complete concentration, to excel in school -- those things stuck.
With a tired body and a lazy vibe in the air, Sunday mornings for Masifilo mean it's time to take the Sabbath literally: a day of rest. Etika doesn't grind Matt down to dust over the matter.
"It's kind of hard when you're used to reasoning," Masifilo said. "Some things are contradictory, hard to understand."
Two roads often lead to the same destination. Etika's road began in a much different place. Growing up on remote Eua Island in Tonga, there was no running water, no convenience as Westerners know it.
"My dad's dad died when he was 8. I have my grandfather's name," said Masifilo, who has been to Eua three times with Etika. "The good thing about Tonga, everyone helps out each other. They don't have much, but they have family. That's why nobody there is homeless."
From tiny Tominiko village, Etika made his way to Hawaii Loa College, which later merged with Hawaii Pacific College. He met Tina, got married and life progressed quite well. If Etika had to rely on faith every step of the way, how would his talented, hard-working son know the definition when life here is so good? Physics can be explained.
Faith has to be experienced. There is no Eua Island for Masifilo, not yet.
"IN THE REAL world, it's about self-motivation. Everything I try to learn, I want it to be purposeful," he said, knowing that the classroom is often the most distant relative of the gridiron.
"I like the high competitiveness of football. The jittery feeling you get before a game. The way the crowd gets into it," Masifilo said.
The connection between community and high school football isn't lost on Masifilo. If he could rewind the tape, nothing would be different.
"There's a lot of talent in Ewa Beach, like the team that won the (Little League) World Series. I know a lot of those guys, and lots of them are at Saint Louis and Punahou now. I'd rather make the best of the environment I'm in," he said.
"We have a lot of talent, and we can make it work together. The talent I have is a reflection of how good my team is. They prepared me," he said.
There is no line of reasoning for acts of grace, but Masifilo sees it often enough.
"He's very passionate, very philosophical," he said of longtime coach Tumoana Kenessey. "He's always teaching us life lessons. He looks out for people."
Kenessey is not a physics instructor. He's the dean of students.
"If anybody gets into trouble on campus, he knows about it," Masifilo said.
"He gives people second chances."Honolulu Advertiser Article
Posted on: Tuesday, August 29, 2006
Colleges like Masifilo's numbers: 6-4, 270, 4.0
By Stacy Kaneshiro
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Stacy Kaneshiro
'EWA BEACH — Campbell High senior Matthew Masifilo is a quick study.
And it's not just because of his 4.0 grade-point average and 1810 SAT score.
The Sabers' offensive guard and part-time defensive lineman didn't start playing organized football until his freshman year at Campbell. He estimates playing about four minutes that season on the junior varsity.
He could've returned to JV as a sophomore. Instead he went out for varsity. An injury to a senior put Masifilo in the lineup and he has been in it since.
"He wasn't the strongest," Campbell coach Tumoana Kenessey said. "But he was intelligent and had good technique."
Masifilo improved to the point where he already has a staggering 13 offers from Division I programs.
"It's humbling to think how fortunate and honored that 13 colleges want me on their teams that much that they're willing to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars (in scholarships) for me to play," said Masifilo, listed at 6 feet 4 and 270 pounds.
Hawai'i, he said, is one of the schools to make an offer, as is Boise State and Nevada, all of the Western Athletic Conference. Also coming in with offers were more than half of the Pac-10 in Arizona, California, Oregon, Oregon State, Stanford and Washington. The rest are UNLV, Utah, San Diego State and Houston. Some schools are recruiting him to play defense. Some will just wait and see where they could use him best. Masifilo's preference would be to play defense.
"But I'll do whatever gets me on the field the fastest," he said.
MASS ON THE MOVE
Masifilo, who is not sure of a major yet, but is interested in aeronautics, said academics will factor into his college choice.
"But I have to be comfortable in that area (where a school is located)," he said.
Recruiting Web sites project Masifilo on defense. Rivals.com ranks him second-highest among Hawai'i's top recruits, right behind Kahuku all-state defensive lineman Kaniela Tuipulotu. To keep Masifilo fresh, the Sabers spot his time on defense. On offense, he plays right guard and does a lot of pulling.
"We run the wing-T, so there's a lot of misdirection," he said. "It's fun. You gotta keep your eyes open. The secondary is much quicker than (linemen), so you have to be quicker on your feet (to block defenders in the secondary)."
He is one of the reasons the Sabers averaged 5.7 yards per rush in their past two games — non-league wins against Castle (17-6) and Damien (38-7). Campbell has four running backs — Berzil Kelii, Bronson Ellis-Rivera, Pita Feleunga and Jesse Lee — each with 100 or more yards rushing.
"He's big and agile," said Damien co-coach Dean Nakagawa, whose team just played the Sabers over the weekend.
DILIGENCE PAYS OFF
His performance is easy to see why scholarship offers are piling up. But they wouldn't come in so early if he weren't prepared academically. He started achieving A's from his days at Ilima Intermediate in the eighth grade. He has been pretty self-motivated.
"When I was young (my parents) made sure I did my work," he said. "(Later) I just got into the habit of doing the best that I can in my work. They really didn't have to push me, just check up on me. They know that I know I'd let myself down if I didn't do my best to succeed."
Masifilo's study habits carried onto the field.
"I would always train like I had a chip on my shoulder," he said. "When I trained, I would always compare myself to people who are already in college. It made me eager to try harder because I didn't want to just compare myself with someone at my level. I wanted to compare myself to someone far ahead of me so it would make me work harder."
Kenessey said one of the reasons Masifilo showed rapid improvement was his intelligence. Masifilo picked up pointers quickly. He even calls blocking assignments on the line of scrimmage, Kenessey said.
For now, thoughts of the scholarship offers are on hold. He has December and January to take his five recruiting visits and decide his future. All he is concerned about is helping the Sabers adjust to their promotion to the O'ahu Interscholastic Association Red West.
"I want to focus on winning, instead of what's going to happen to me after the season because the team deserves my 100 percent effort," he said. "You play for the team, not for yourself. That's why I try not to think about recruiting as much."
Reach Stacy Kaneshiro at email@example.com.