Hercules Mata'afa lives up to the first name for Washington State

He might not look like Hercules, but he certainly plays up to the name.

Sometimes a name just fits.

The last two years WSU fans have been witness to impressive feats of strength, undeniable power, and an ability to fight off the occasional giant.

Herculean indeed.

But on paper - heck, even in pads, WSU's best defensive player doesn't impose the way his name might suggest.

“He's supposed to be this tall, this big,” WSU Defensive Line Coach Jeff Phelps said. “And sometimes they forget how he's one heck of a football player.”

“Herc is a unique talent,” Cougs Defensive Coordinator Alex Grinch added.

Hercules Mata'afa lives up to his infamous name.

“He's got to be the most productive defensive lineman in the country, because that's what we expect from him,” Grinch said.

All 252 pounds of him. Mata'afa doesn't have the bulk of a prototypical defensive lineman - especially one asked to blow up the interior of opposing offenses where much larger bodies reside.

“I think as a coaching staff we're surprised when we see what he's capable of doing against some situations where he's giving up 50-plus pounds,” Grinch said. “Quite honestly some of those situations are when he's at his best.”

Hercules was even slighter during his explosive freshman season, listed at 242 pounds. In 2015 he posted seven sacks and racked up 11 tackles for loss, earning him a little extra attention.

“I've been double teamed a lot,” Mata’afa said. “You can turn on my film.”

Sure enough teams learned to send an extra body at Hercules, but they still haven't figured out how to stop him. In 2016 he had five sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss.

“He's a force in the backfield,” Grinch said. “That kind of makes everyone else's job a little bit easier.”

Spoken of as one of the best defensive linemen in the Pac-12 - but not one to get carried away with his own labors - Mata'afa lets his play tell the tale.

“That's kind of how I roll,” Hercules explained. “I just go out there and play the game that I love. I go all out for this, it's a passion.”

The soft spoken, undersized destroyer.

“We'll enjoy his uniqueness while he's with us,” Grinch said.

And they'll remember the name after he's gone.

© 2017 KREM-TV


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