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Saturday, September 09, 2006

SLUH's Niko Mafuli is strong role model

Niko Mafuli (6'4, 305) of St Louis University High is a Preseason All St Louis Metro 1st Team Offensive Lineman. Mafuli has verbally committed to Northwestern University and was a second-team All-Metro pick last fall. He was the best blocker on a squad that rushed for 2,470 yards.

Article below from the St Louis Post-Dispatch

SLUH's Niko Mafuli is strong role model

Niko Mafuli, a two-way senior tackle at St. Louis U. High, is big and strong.

That's big as in 6 feet 4 and 305 pounds.

And strong as in the 1,215 pounds that he hoisted on the bench press, squat and
clean when the Junior Bills tested at the start of camp.

He squatted 620 pounds, matching his personal best. He cleaned 270 pounds, just
shy of his best of 280. And, hampered by a tweaked wrist, he benched only 325
pounds, well off his best of 405.

That makes him the second-biggest and second-strongest member of his family.
His dad, Vae, is a 330-pound world champion powerlifter.

"His dad is just massive," said SLUH coach Gary Kornfeld, "and one of the
kindest, gentlest giants you've ever met."

Niko described his dad this way: "He's still pretty solid, not too fat. And
he's still competing."

Vae, who stands 6-2, doesn't remember the exact totals when he won his world
title in 1997 in Blackpool, England.

He said he has benched 462 pounds, squatted 957 and dead-lifted 800, the clean
not being part of his competition.

Niko is also good enough at football and smart enough in school to rate a
college scholarship from a top academic college.

In both respects, he is just following his father's lead. The difference is
level of play and distance from home.

Next summer, Niko will drive 350 miles north to Northwestern, a Big Ten school
in Evanston, Ill., just outside Chicago.

Nearly 30 years ago, Vae left his home in Pago Pago, on the tiny Pacific island
of Samoa, to fly halfway around the world and wind up, sight unseen, at
Northeast Missouri State in Kirksville.

For the record, his dad was also Big Ten material.

"I had an offer from the Buckeyes of Ohio State, back in Woody Hayes' days,''
Vae said. "But my aunt was the educated person on the island, and she said,
'No, that is too big for you. You will get lost the first day.'"

He had been off the island only once, for an all-star game in Hawaii. That
generated his three college offers, the last coming from a Hawaiian small

"I wanted to go to the mainland," Vae said. "Everybody on Samoa wants to go to
the U.S. and make something of himself. That's why I picked Northeast. And
also, my aunt looked at the fliers they sent me and said, 'This is ideal for

So in the summer of 1978, Vae flew into Kansas City and was met by two coaches
from Northeast. He got a crash briefing on his new home on the four-hour drive
to Kirksville.

"But my English was really bad," Vae said.

He plugged in as a nose tackle, played rugby on the side and discovered the
weight room.

"That was the first time I was introduced to free weights," Vae said. "On the
island, I worked in the mountains on a farm. You could not get a tractor or a
truck up there, so I would carry stuff up and back, back and forth."

He toted crops such as taro roots, pineapples and coconuts in 150-pound baskets.

"I had a big stick," he said, "and I'd put a basket on each end. Then I'd put
the stick on my shoulders and walk down the mountain."

That helps explain his philosophy of life: no whining. It's his mantra in the
weight room.

Sluggish? That's whining.

Sore? Whining.

"He's always saying you can't let the weight beat you," Niko said. "He really
pushes hard, real hard. If you get to your max, he wants you to go higher."

"So doggone strong"

The father never pushed the son into anything, be it football, weights or

"I let him make the choice for college," Vae said. "Really, I prefer Notre
Dame. But I don't force anybody."

By all accounts, especially his fellow Junior Bills who see him daily, Niko is
Big Ten ready.

"He's just so doggone strong and quick off the ball," Kornfeld said. "He just
bull-rushes people. He can go on either side of the ball, but I could see him
being a nose tackle, with his strength and lateral mobility. And he just turned
17 in June. He's still got a lot of room for growth."

He's big enough and then some for high school play.

SLUH senior Tyler Caldwell, a 6-2, 232-pound tight end, said of his lifting

"The coaches won't let him go 100 percent in practice or he's going to hurt
somebody. I've played against him when he plays defense, and he goes 50 percent
and still kicks my butt. I'd hate to be on the other team."

Niko, with an easy grin and a top-knot ponytail, hardly looks menacing.

"Oh, I've seen him get real fired up," Caldwell said. "From the sidelines, you
can hear the pop when he hits someone, like when that DeSmet kid poked him in
the eye two years ago."

"I think it was an accident," Niko said, "but I was ticked."

The coaches wanted him to come out until he could blink away his blurry vision.
He refused.

"He was playing offense," said Caldwell, "and on the next play he just pancaked
the guy."

At Northeast, now known as Truman State, Vae worked on his studies and earned a
degree in industrial technology. He is now a software design engineer for
Boeing, working from his Florissant home, where his wife, Jackie, and two
younger daughters complete the family.

Niko proudly notes that his dad is training for the powerlifting world
championships in August 2007. They will be held in Samoa, which Vae still
represents and which Niko has visited only once as a toddler.

The event may conflict with Niko's first college camp, but Vae would love to
compete in his native land, in front of his son, instead of the other way

"He's better than me, as far as everything," Vae said. "He's got the tools to
make it happen, and all the training and proper technique. I had to work real
hard to get there."

As the son prepares for Northwestern, the dad reflects on his days at Northeast.

"It was great," Vae said. "My aunt made the right call." | 314-340-8108


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