By ROBERT COLLIAS, Staff Writer
Stanley Malamala is a football survivor.
From a nagging pain in his neck that eventually forced him to miss most of his sophomore and all of his junior seasons at Lahainaluna High School, to committing to Arizona State in late May after taking three years to secure his associate degree from Golden West (Calif.) Junior College, Malamala has persevered long enough to become a scholarship player in the Pac-10 Conference.
So, exactly what is it like playing for a Pac-10 school?
''Hard,'' Malamala said via phone Wednesday, three days before he renews acquaintances with Southern California starting linebacker Kaluka Maiava at Memorial Coliseum. ''It is just real hard. You have to train hard, every time, every day. There is no slacking around here.''
Not when the Sun Devils entered the season highly ranked and highly regarded, but have lost three in a row to fall to 2-3. After easy wins over Northern Arizona and Stanford, the losing run started with a 23-20 overtime loss to UNLV - a team that was 2-10 last season - in Tempe.
Frustrating losses to Georgia and California have followed. Throw in that Malamala plays only on the field goal special teams unit, and it is even more frustrating.
But considering that he was stopped by doctors from playing the final stretch of his sophomore season after the soreness in his neck became too much to bear, and then not cleared to play as a junior for the Lunas, it is a remarkable trail he has blazed to get to Tempe.
He was the final member of ASU's class when he committed to accept a scholarship on May 23, well after the national letter-of-intent signing period had lapsed.
''It really was a big relief when I signed,'' Malamala said after picking ASU over Oregon. ''I was happy when I got that chance.''
Malamala said he is not exactly sure what the neck injury was that forced him to the volleyball court for the Lunas - he was also a standout basketball player but had to hang up that sport for two seasons as well - until he was finally cleared to play both football and basketball before his senior year.
The football coaches for the Lunas, especially veteran assistant Lanny Tihada, kept Malamala going.
''Lahainaluna, every time I think about that place I know how important it was for me, that (coaching) staff was fun and they were good for me,'' Malamala said. '''Coach Lanny was still helping me out when I was in J.C. When I finally got to play as a senior, I was a tight end in 2004.''
That was the season the Lunas last won the MIL overall football title, on the strength of a 6-6 tie and 21-14 win over Baldwin. The Bears, who haven't lost a league game since that night in October of 2004, featured Maiava.
Malamala said he is looking forward to seeing the Trojans' starting linebacker on Saturday.
''I don't know if I will be able to talk to him - I'd like to, but we will see what happens,'' Malamala said. ''In high school, he was the number one guy at that time, so I want to see him now. He was fast, just so fast, so we keyed him the whole time.''
All Malamala says about his neck injury is that it kept him off the football field.
''I didn't play after that - I played my freshman year and then halfway through my sophomore year they said I had a small injury in my neck, so they wouldn't clear me,'' he said. ''So I played volleyball until I could play football my senior year. I can't remember what they said it was.''
He played as a freshman at Golden West and then redshirted as a sophomore to concentrate on school. Now, he is a sociology major at ASU.
His biography on the ASU Web site says he played in six games in 2007 with 16 catches for 136 yards and two touchdowns. Malamala said he played in every game last season, but the most important lesson he learned at Golden West was how important school is.