Growing up, Malaki Ta’ase used to watch his older brother Mata’ava play football under the Friday Night Lights at Mountain View High School in Mesa, Arizona. Mata’ava, or Tava for short, was a three-year varsity wide receiver for the Toros who earned a number of accolades there, including his name up on the wall at the school. For as long as Malaki could remember, he wanted to grow up to be a stud on the gridiron like Tava.
Tava graduated from Mountain View in May 2016 and went on to serve a mission for his church, electing to put off any potential plans for college football until afterwards, just as Malaki was getting ready to begin middle school.
The Ta’ase household had a strict “no-tackle football” rule until the boys were in eighth grade, so Malaki played basketball in the meantime to work on his athleticism. It wasn’t until after a year after Tava graduated that Malaki was finally able to take the field himself and find his career would likely take place on the other side of the ball.
“I remember watching him in elementary school and wanting to be like him, but kind of different, because he’s tall and skinny, and I knew I always was a thicker boy,” Malaki said as he giggled.
When Malaki started playing, Tava was deep into serving his mission for his church, ultimately cutting off most contact between the brothers while he was gone. Malaki said he and Tava used to always talk about football in general. While he wishes his brother was around earlier on in his career, as that’s a huge foundation of their relationship, their relationship has been able to grow and mature, especially as Malaki can now bring his own unique perspective to their football conversations.
“We always kind of talk about football, that’s really where our relationship is really big,” Malaki said.
At 6-foot-1 in eighth grade, Malaki was big for his age. When he first started playing, he was a tackle before eventually finding he was a phenomenal fit at defensive end. After making varsity as a freshman, Malaki had a lot to learn quick, but with time he found himself more comfortable with having so much responsibility on the field from a young age.
“I’m really glad I played Varsity as a Freshman because it really helped me understand the speed of the game. Once Sophomore year hit, it really just clicked,” Malaki said.
“He’s definitely more developed than me when I was in high school and I think he’s a lot better athlete than I was,” Tava said.
Now as a Junior, Malaki currently is at the top of the list for the most sacks throughout the first six games in Arizona with 12, and has been critical in helping the Toros remain undefeated.
In that time, Tava has since returned from his mission and has returned to the field, playing as a tight end for the Hohokam Junior College Athletic Conference’s Gila River Hawks. While some would believe taking that much time away from the sport would impact an athlete’s level of play, it’s only elevated it for Tava.
“It’s a lot different from when he was in high school,” Malaki said. “I think he’s like 240, so to see him get used to his body, it’s funny because I’m younger than him but I can see the transition in his game.”
Now, the brothers are hoping they can continue playing for at least some time together at four-year colleges. Malaki is opting not to go on a mission for his church and will be looking to enroll in college for the Fall 2022 semester. Meanwhile for Tava, because of his mission, he’ll have three remaining years and a redshirt season available if needed after this year. He’s looking to enroll somewhere as early as Spring of 2021.
Both of their parents were athletes at the University of Utah. Their father played football while their mother played volleyball, and the Ta’ase brothers say to follow in their footsteps would be a dream.
“I think for my two little brothers, they’ve really clung onto that and they like that. For me, though, anywhere is great at this point and I think the University of Utah or staying close to home would be awesome,” Tava said.
While Utah is high on their list, the two are also open to any other offers that would allow them to both play college football at a Power 5 school at the same time, hopefully within the same conference. No matter what, though, both say they’re just doing everything they can to focus on doing the best they can do this season.
“I know as soon as that happens, everything will fall into place and I’ll be happy,” Malaki said.
Malaki’s season is approaching the peak, with only two regular-season games remaining before the playoffs start, but Tava’s is just getting underway as the HJCAC delayed the start to the season. Either way, the journey for the two of them playing football together is hopefully just beginning.
“If the opportunity does come to be able to play with him and the stars to align, that would be great, but at the end of the day, I just want what’s best for him,” Tava said.