The Family Man
As kickoff approaches at Dix Stadium, in the depths of the Kent State locker room before today’s 1 p.m. contest against Mid-American Conference East Division rival Bowling Green, you will find junior linebacker C.J. Malauulu staring intensely at a photo of his family.
Athletes find different forms of motivation. For some, listening to music gets them pumped up. For others, it’s carrying a chip the size of the Grand Canyon on their shoulders.
For Malauulu though, it’s the thought of protecting and honoring those he loves that gets the blood -- and sometimes even the tears -- flowing.
"It’s the highest level of motivation I’ve ever felt," revealed Malauulua." When I think of them, sometimes I start to cry because I’ll psyche myself into thinking the opposing team is trying to hurt my family. I’ll make myself think that if I don’t make a tackle, my family won’t eat, or if we don’t win the game, my family won’t have anywhere to sleep. I feel like it makes me play with so much energy and passion."
That energy and passion has certainly been on display this season. The Oceanside, Calif., native stands out in that he’s always flying around the field and finding his way to the football. He leads Golden Flashes with 3.5 sacks, is tied for the team lead in solo tackles (25) and ranks second on the squad in total tackles (54) and tackles for loss (9.0 for 32 yards).
After recording two tackles in his Kent State debut at Alabama in the season opener on Sept. 3, Malauulu made his first start against Louisiana on Sept. 10, recording a sack for a safety, two tackles for loss, seven total stops, four solo tackles and a quarterback hurry. He led the team with 10 tackles against South Alabama on Sept. 24, including seven solo stops, one sack and two tackles for loss. Malauulu was named MAC East Defensive Player of the Week after leading both sides with 12 tackles at Ohio on Oct.1, adding a sack and a forced fumble. He led both sides with 10 tackles against Miami on Oct. 15, adding a fumble recovery and a pass breakup.
All that production comes from the fire that burns within Malauulu that is stoked by the desire to make his family proud. The oldest son of Casey Sr. and Janet Malauulu takes his role of big brother to seven siblings seriously.
"It’s taught me responsibility and leadership," explained Malauulu "They’re all looking up to me. I’m the first one to go to college and get a scholarship. I hope I set the example for them. They inspire me. My only reason to do anything that I do is for my family. If it wasn’t for my family, I’d just be wasting time out here."
Malauulu has certainly made his family proud already. A first team all-league selection and defensive MVP his senior season at El Camino High School, Malauulu initially attended Palomar Community College in hopes of attracting the attention of Division I programs. He posted 47 tackles (27 solo), two tackles for loss and a blocked kick in nine games in 2010 and recorded 10 stops in the final game of the season. When Kent State offered Malauulu a scholarship, he jumped at the opportunity.
"It’s meant everything to me," expressed Malauulu of the opportunity to play for the Golden Flashes. "When Kent State called me, I jumped at it. I was so excited to see that we were going to open the season at Alabama, just to see where I was at in the world. I’m happy I’m doing well here. I know I can play at the Division I level and play well."
Before he came to Northeast Ohio, one of his younger brothers helped him hone his toughness by getting him involved in rugby.
"There are no pads in rugby, so it definitely got my toughness up," admitted Malauulu. "I didn’t want to play it, but after I went to the first game and saw my 6-year-old brother playing against 12-year-olds, I knew if I didn’t play it I would be the biggest scaredy cat in the world."
While his brother’s toughness inspired him on the rugby pitch, the play of an NFL star sporting No. 43 and sporting similar long hair flowing from the back of the helmet also served as a source of inspiration on the football field. It’s hard not to watch Malauulu make a big hit or an athletic play and not think of Pittsburgh Steelers strong safety Troy Polamalu – also a native Californian.
"He’s definitely someone I look up to," said Malauulu of the 2010 NFL Defensive Player of the Year. "If you go to California, you’ll see a lot of guys who look like me. Look at any depth chart at No. 43, you’ll probably see a guy with long hair."
With Oceanside sitting a mere 2,408 miles away from Kent, Malauulu has not had the opportunity to see his family much in the past few months. That will change on Nov. 19, when they’ll make the journey to Dix Stadium to watch their son and big brother play against Eastern Michigan. Fittingly, that game will feature a matchup for bragging rights against cousin Nate Paopao, a senior linebacker for the Eagles.
Whether they’re watching him in the stands at Dix Stadium or they’re in his heart and thoughts before he takes the field, family is always with Malauulu no matter where he goes.