Ute Nation Countdown to Kickoff: Malone Mataele
The second of today's countdown articles is a guy who could see a decent amount of playing time in the secondary this season after redshirting a year ago. Malone Mataele joined the team last year as a Swiss Army knife kind of player who did a little bit of everything for his high school. Mataele played running back, receiver, defensive back, and returner throughout his prep career, but was brought in solely to play defense with the Utes.
In spring camp of his true freshman year, Mataele started off as a strong safety, but after some initial struggles, he was moved to nickel and found a home there, backing up Javelin Guidry. Though Tareke Lewis ended up serving as the primary backup at nickel last year, with his move to outside corner, Mataele now has a golden opportunity to win some rotational playing time this season. If he does so, he could be competing for a starting job earlier than expected, if Javelin Guidry has the kind of year that would allow him to be an early entry to the NFL draft.
Andrew Fronce's take
Athletically, Mataele was on a different level than his peers at Santa Margarita high school, and served as a jack-of-all-trades type of player for them. He especially excelled in the return game, and was able to put his athletic ability on full display there. Upon arriving at Utah, Mataele looked a little lost at safety throughout his first spring camp, though it looked like he was starting to grasp things by the end. However, he ended up showing enough fluidity and man coverage ability that the coaches ended up moving him to nickel, where he has earned praise from his coaches and teammates alike.
Mataele has had a nice opportunity to learn from one of the best nickelbacks in college football this year and last, and from the sound of things, he could have a chance to earn some reps on defense this season in relief of Javelin Guidry. Though he may not have Guidry's elite speed, Mataele has the agility and explosiveness needed to be a solid nickel for the Utes.
Alex remembers Mataele's recruitment
As a 5.7 rated three-star athlete (no. 29, athlete according to Rivals) Mataele committed to the Utes early in May of 2017. He had offers from over three-quarters of the Pac-12 schools, and initially committed to Utah because of their success with sending running backs to the NFL. However, despite a less productive year as the featured back at Santa Margarita Catholic HS, he was still considered a valuable recruit for the defensive side of the ball.