Hawaiian rookie Hercules Mata’afa trying to live up to his name with Vikings

May 06, 2018 | by Dane Mizutani, twincities.com

Without anything to actually study, rookie linebacker Hercules Mata’afa still pulled an all-nighter to prepare for rookie minicamp with the Vikings.

“It’s a five-hour time difference,” said Mata’afa, who is from Lahaina, Hawaii. “I made sure I stayed up all night so I could get adjusted. I was able to sleep (on Thursday) night to get ready for this.”

Mata’afa signed with the Vikings last week after being passed over in the 2018 NFL Draft. While it was a disappointing three days for the 22-year-old watching with his family back home on the islands, those feelings quickly dissipated when he got the call from the Vikings.

“It was tough,” said Mata’afa, who was projected as a mid-round pick by some draft pundits. “You’ve got to move on from certain things. That’s a thing of the past now.”

“It’s a big deal (to get here), especially being from my island,” Mata’afa added. “Not a lot of people from Maui make it to the league, so I’m really excited about that. I’m just trying to make everyone back home proud.”

Listed as one of the top undrafted free agents, Mata’afa certainly had options following his draft disappointment. He finished his career at Washington State with 22.5 sacks and nearly 50 tackles for loss, using his explosiveness to wreak havoc in opponents’ backfields.

“I chose (the Vikings) because they’re the best defense in the league and I want to be able to prove myself that I can compete with the best,” Mata’afa said. “If I’m competing with the best at practice, I can compete with the best across the league.”

Mata’afa fell out the draft because, at 6-foot-1, 252 pounds, he was an undersized defensive lineman at Washington State. Way too small for the NFL. But maybe just the right size for a linebacker.

“That will be the biggest adjustment for him,” coach Mike Zimmer said, noting that Mata’afa led the NCAA in negative plays the past two seasons. “There has been several guys that have gone from defensive line to linebacker. (Teddy) Bruschi is a great example. Now, I’m not saying he’s Teddy Bruschi. Just that there are guys that have done that in the past.”

Mata’afa is learning the ropes at strongside linebacker right now, though he projects as someone who can also play weakside linebacker in a pinch.

There’s also chatter that defensive coordinator George Edwards has plans to use Mata’afa as an edge rusher at times, something that makes sense considering his explosiveness, lateral quickness and finishing ability in the backfield.

“I’m a versatile player and I can help out in a lot of different packages,” Mata’afa said. “I feel like I’m an explosive player, so I want to get out there and show the coaches what I can do. There’s no question that I can play. I just want to prove that.”

Mata’afa called it “a surreal moment” to step onto an NFL practice field on Friday for the first day of rookie minicamp at the Vikings’ new facility in Eagan.

“I made sure to take it in,” Mata’afa said. “It’s exciting. I’m excited for the work I’m about to put in for this opportunity.”

While it will be an uphill battle for Mata’afa to make the the team, it seems silly to doubt him at this point.

Just look at his first name.

“It was between Hercules and Anthony, and I came out being the biggest baby in the family,” Mata’afa explained. “There are seven kids in our family, and I was the biggest. I weighed about 10 pounds, and I was able to support my neck as soon as soon as I came out of the womb.”

“I feel like I’ve been living up to it so far,” Mata’afa added. “Hopefully I can continue to do that at the next level.”