By Dr. Greg Shepard
Published: Winter 1997
Honolulu is on the island of Oahu in the state of Hawaii. Oahu is known as the “gathering place.” Many Polynesian people come to Oahu not only from other Hawaiian islands but other more distant South Pacific islands. BYU - Hawaii on the north side of Oahu features the Polynesian Cultural Center where people congregate from distances of thousands of miles representing Tahiti, Samoa, Tonga Fiji, Maori, and Marqueses.
I love the Polynesian people and have spent quite a bit of time enjoying the separate cultures of these delightful people. They are almost always humble, respectful, fun to be around and have a wonderful spirit about them. The Polynesians are gifted athletes who have been blessed with above average size, strength, speed, balance and agility. However, it would be unusual to see a Polynesian over 6-3 in height. I have often said that about every third house in the Polynesian areas of Oahu has a Division I body. I firmly believe there are more good Division I football players per capita from Polynesia than in any other country or race of people.
Chris Fuamatu-Ma’afala is from Hawaii but his parents were from American Samoa some 2,300 miles from Oahu. American Samoa is a United States territory and is only 77 square miles in size. Western Samoa and American Samoa have a combined population of about 200,000. Chris is no exception to the rule that Samoans love their heritage. He wears the traditional Lava Lava dress all the time in Utah.
There are a total of 16 Hawaiian’s with Polynesian blood on the University of Utah football team. Olin Kreutz, the All-American center from the University of Washington also featured in this BFS Journal played with Chris at St. Louis High School. They were both All-State at the same time in both their junior and senior years. Chris led his team to state championships as he averaged 9.2 yards per carry.
Chris weighted 185 pounds when in the 9th grade but then added a whopping 65-pounds in the next year. He did not lift regularly in high school but did Bench 225 for 10 reps. Chris topped out at 260 pounds for his senior year at St. Louis High School, where he was named Most Valuable Running Back. “I was used mostly as a blocker,” remembered Chris. “I think I only had about 6 carries per game. I like carrying the ball but sometimes I get tired.”
Family ties run deep especially with Chris’ mother Lusia Ma’afala. “My mom,” said Chris. “That’s why I’m here at the University of Utah. She’s why I play football. I play football for my mom and family. If I ever were to make money in pro football, I would take care of my mom first.”
Chris’ dad died of a heart attack when he was in the second grade. He has 10 brothers and sisters with Chris being the youngest. Chris’ two oldest brothers took on the responsibility of a father figure. The whole family is very close and that helped to ease the burden of the loss of their father. Roy, Chris’ oldest brother, was a four-year starting offensive lineman for Utah.
Chris threw the shot but only as a sophomore where he heaved it 50 feet. “Wow,” I exclaimed to Chris, “you could have gone over 60 if you’d stuck with it and lifted properly.” Chris just shrugged his huge shoulders and told me he’s got a little cousin who just threw 52-feet as a 9th grader. See what I mean about that Samoan blood.
Samoan life in Hawaii is good according to Chris. “You can climb mountains and trees and go to the beach. There are always chores to do.” However, there is a darker side. “I have a lot of friends who are huge and could be playing, but grades and the SAT screw them up. The ones on scholarship are real lucky.”
As an 18-year old true freshman, Chris was named Western Athletic Conference Freshman of the Year. He was also an honorable mention all-WAC running back, Utah’s New Comer of the Year and Most Inspirational Offensive Player as he led the Utes in rushing at nearly 76 yards per game. At this time, Chris weighted 275 pounds with 4.7 speed.
By his sophomore year, Chris was 280 pounds and a First-team all-WAC running back despite missing three games due to knee surgery (arthroscopic surgery) to repair torn knee cartilage. He was voted Utah MVP by his teammates and averaged 122.8 yards per game which was the second most in school history for a career average of 95.5 rushing yards per game and 5.9 yards per carry.
Chris is now fully recovered but head coach Ron McBride feels the need to push Chris to even higher levels. “Chris needs to become more disciplined in his everyday life. The little things need to be more important to him. Chris is a big play guy who has shown incredible potential, but one who can get even better. I liked what I saw in the spring. He became a much better blocker and missed fewer assignments.”
Chris took this charge by Coach McBride to heart. His weight had climbed to 295 and Offensive Coordinator, Fred Graves, began calling Chris everyday. “I came back to Utah last summer,” said Chris, “because of Coach Graves. “ I promised him and I had to keep my promise. If you promise something, you have an obligation to keep that promise.”
“Last summer I worked out harder than ever before. I got stronger really fast. I feel really light on my feet now that my weight is down to 268 pounds. I’m glad I came back. If everybody would see me workout, coach Graves told me, they would respect me more. It’s also better to be leaner.” Chris is now running a 4.6 forty with a 33 ½ vertical jump. His strength is up to a 455 Bench, a 200 Squat, a 328 Power Clean and 345-pound Incline.
Chris shook his head, “I don’t think anything when people say that I’m so fast being so big because I have so many friends that can do the same thing. We have 300 pounders in my neighborhood even quicker than I am.”
Chris realizes the importance of his education and what it means to his future. He turns his assignments in on time and has a 2.7 GPA. “I want to be a teacher and work with kids back home in Hawaii,” said Chris. “A lot of kids are hard headed like me. The age I like best is from 10 to 12. That’s when they start to change. In my neighborhood there are gangs and drugs. The last time I went home two kids got killed in a gang war right in front of my home.
“I’d like to be an elementary school teacher and coach little league football.” Chris feels little league would be more fun. “Whatever happens with money or pro ball, I’d still want to teach. I’m happy with a simple life.”
Chris would be also happy with a Luau everyday. He doesn’t eat poi but does eat taro and bakes it like a potato. He doesn’t particularly like food here on the mainland. Chris is trying to eat a lot of salads now to keep his weight down. “But it is real hard,” admitted Chris. You should have seen Chris’ eyes light up when I told him about the new BFS nutrition plan explained in this journal.
“Chris has always tried to keep himself clean as far as drugs and alcohol. “I have never had a drink in high school or here at Utah,” confided Chris. “My whole life people have always asked me to drink. But if people push you about it, they aren’t really your friends. My teammates don’t bother me here at Utah. They tell me it is cool that I don’t drink.”
Chris laughed, “Maybe I would drink if you could find somebody tough enough to beat up my mom but I don’t think so. Anyway, my mom and brothers would beat me up bad if I were to be stupid and drink. That’s why I never touched one drop of beer in high school.”
“In my neighborhood a lot of people smoke Marijuana along with a lot of cousins. They would never ask me to smoke because of my mom. They knew better. In my neighborhood she is known.” Mrs. Ma’afala is 6-1, 225 pounds and when she speaks people listen. Chris’ dad was also big at 5’11, 240 pounds.
“I’ve changed this year,” said Chris with determination. “I look to the future of being a teacher. I le