Victor Maccharoli / Daily News
Athlete of the Week: Palo Alto's TD machine
Bruising fullback has Vikings in CCS title gameThe entire Palo Alto squad elevated its play to best Palma-Salinas 41-38 in quadruple overtime last Friday, advancing to the Central Coast Section Open Division finals in the process. That feat makes it difficult to celebrate one player, especially since a handful of Vikings stepped up under the lights of San Jose City College.
Still, five moments, and one player, stole the show last Friday - fullback Sione Mataele, who ran in four touchdowns, caught another and picked up 114 yards on the ground.
Even Palo Alto head coach Earl Hansen, a straight shooter with little emphasis on individualism, admitted that Mataele was the player who took center stage.
"There was more than one, but you would have to say Sione," said Hansen, when asked who stood out against Palma. "You'd be laughed at if you picked someone else."
On third-and-goal, guard Fred Koloto and left tackle Uly Morales led Mataele to the promise land, ending Palma's season along the way. It was only a 1-yarder, but a climactic 1-yarder. One that will never be forgotten by Mataele, and a moment he envisioned just before Palma's Kyle Harrigan booted a 23-yard field goal in the final overtime.
"That was big when he kicked that, but I was hoping he would make it," the 6-foot, 260-pounder said. "When he did, I knew I was going to punch it in for us."
Mataele, a junior, has been good for 585 yards on 115 carries according to maxpreps.com, and has penetrated the goal line 13 times this season. He has also filled an important role on offense by crossing tough hash marks, snagging first downs and pounding out much-needed scores.
"It's about trusting your blockers," Mataele said. "Why not? They trust me."
His contribution also takes pressure off the wheels of running backs Will Frazier and Evan Warner, who frequently benefit from his blocks.
"No one can handle him," said Frazier, who dashed for a 10-yard touchdown against Palma. "He makes me and Evan look good."
Frazier is equally impressed with his fullback's ball-handling skills, too.
"He's our bowling ball," said Frazier, who dashed for a 10-yard touchdown against Palma. "He makes it so that teams have to stop three backs, which is good."
Mataele, who occasionally dabbles in rugby with cousins, developed power and speed while lifting weights and running with his father, Tava. This commitment transformed him, not only into a powerful runner, but a threat on the defensive line as well - a vital part of the Vikings' emergence in 2006.
Still, there is no question that Mataele sees himself as a fullback first and foremost and one that carries the rock.
"I like running the ball," Mataele said. "Yeah, that's what I love to do."
After he graduates, Mataele pictures himself playing football at Foothill College. He would also like for his mother Suliana to eventually watch him at a four-year school.
For now, though, such dreams are locked away, as No. 99 prepares to line up in the Paly backfield for a rematch with Oak Grove, the only team to defeat Paly in '06.
Mataele hasn't visualized a repeat performance, though.
"I know they aren't expecting much from me, but I am going to show them that wasn't me" said Mataele, who fumbled the ball in the 35-14 loss. "So it's a challenge. Learn to face it."
Unlike other programs victimized by the Eagles, the Vikings are the only one with a shot at redemption, and Mataele is grateful for the second chance.
"I am pumped up to play," the 17-year-old said. "Last time I wasn't at top form, but this time it will be different."
It's also different because if Paly wins, the team possibly earns the right to play for a state championship, a new addition to prep football this year that would add to their underdog story.
First things first, though. Oak Grove must be stopped so premonitions can become reality.
"I am ready," Mataele said. "We are all going to be ready for that one."
And whenever the season concludes, don't expect to see Mataele sitting around, playing video games with friends - which he admittedly enjoys. Nope, that's not going to happen.
He plans to apply his size and strength to another sport in the spring.
"I want to do some field events," Mataele said. "I am going to try shot put and discus."
And after that, he's putting those pads back on for his senior year.
"I am going to really work hard this summer," Mataele said. "Hopefully it carries over."