Matthew Pola-Mao is still in the learning stage. A freshman defensive end at Kansas State, Pola-Mao is from Arizona. He’s used to heat, but the humidity is something else, he said. But like all other things he’s experience at K-State so far, he’s working through it.
Pola-Mao has football in his pedigree. His father, Tracey Mao, was the team captain and Most Inspirational player for San Diego State in 1992. His older brother, Isaiah, is a safety at USC in his sophomore year. His mother’s first cousin is Troy Polamalu.
Football is in his blood, and Kansas State is a big step for him.
“It’s been a blessing and really fun lately,” Pola-Mao said. “I got here in early June, and I started lifting with the seniors. Coach (Mike Tuiasosopo) has been great so far in camp, I’ve gotten to work with him, and I’m looking forward to continuing that relationship with him as well.”
Tuiasosopo also is in his first year with the Wildcats, and his ability to recruit players from out West, like Pola-Mao, has been valuable already.
“We are both Polynesian, so we clicked,” Pola-Mao said. “He actually was recruiting me for another school earlier in my high school career. He told me he had a job at Kansas State. I looked into it and thought, ‘Man, this is a really nice school’ and ended up taking an official visit and loving it and created a couple relationships with the players during it and got to meet a lot of the coaching staff. I ended up committing on my visit.”
Pola-Mao was a highly sought after player, ranked the 21st-best defensive tackle in the 2019 class. But moving from high school to college has still been a bit of a transition. His family has been a big help there. Pola-Mao’s father sends him text messages every morning to motivate him to wake up and embrace the grind.
“It was mostly my close cousins and my brother who have helped me,” Pola-Mao said. “I was able to learn what to do and what not to do and try to set a good path for myself. Playing with my brother in high school was really fun, too, and I always looked forward to that..”
What has been the biggest struggle for Pola-Mao, other than the humidity, has been getting used to the pace of the game and playing at the Division I level. Power-5 school speed, and a lot of it, Pola-Mao said, is in his head.
“It’s hard to play fast when you are thinking of what to do and are not used to what is going down,” Pola-Mao said. “Right now it is all a mental game. That comes with it.”
Despite Pola-Mao struggling with the pace of the game, Tuiasosopo remains quite confident in the player he’s known since Pola-Mao was a sophomore in high school. The fact that Pola-Mao is open to talking about transitioning to the college game so openly, Tuiasosopo said, is indicative of his commitment to making the team better. The Wildcats are a young team, so having a high-profile freshman like Pola-Mao could mean more is required from him earlier than others.
“Matthew is going to be a really good player in time,” Tuiasosopo said. “Right now he’s not playing as fast because not only is he learning a whole new scheme, but he is learning how college football works. I’m sure if you ask him, he will probably tell you the same thing. In terms of him playing fast, he’s not as fast as we need him to be because he is just trying to figure things out. Other than that, we are very fortunate to have him in our program.”