Hercules Mata’afa wasn’t the first football star in his family. That distinction belongs to his sister.
When Lalelei Mata’afa was 9 years old, she won the girls 8-9 division of the NFL Punt, Pass & Kick national championship in Indianapolis. She won the competition against the backdrop of a divisional playoff game on Jan. 13, 2008 between the Colts and the San Diego Chargers at the RCA Dome.
Hercules Mata’afa, now a defensive end for the Vikings, attended that game along his sister and another sister, Lia, 27, who was serving as their chaperone. Hercules was 12 at the time.
“My first NFL game I ever went to was because of her, going to the Colts versus Chargers game,” said Hercules, a native of Lahaina, Hawaii. “That was kind of an eye-opening experience, so that was a dream come true seeing my first NFL game.”
For Lalelei, Punt, Pass & Kick accolades continued. She finished second in the 10-11 competition in 2009-10, fourth in the 14-15 category in 2012-13 and second in the 14-15 division in 2013-14.
Lalelei, 22, then went on to become a four-time Hawaii state girls wrestling champion in the 220-pound division at Lahainaluna High School, and she is now a water polo star at the University of Hawaii. The 5-foot-11 Lalelei was the team’s second-leading scorer last spring as a redshirt junior before the competition was cut short due to the coronavirus.
But what about football? With her punting, passing and kicking skills, could she also have become an active player like Hercules, who starred at Lahainaluna High and Washington State before joining the Vikings in 2018?
“When I was growing up in elementary school and middle school, I was always the quarterback for teams because the boys always wanted to pick me first because they knew I could throw a ball pretty well,” she said. “I had thought about playing at least one year in high school, but I was too focused on getting a scholarship for sports that would take me further. But I think I could have played.”
Hercules, 25, doesn’t doubt it. He wondered if she could have earned a college football scholarship.
“Yeah, if she would have played football, I don’t know, she probably would have messed around a scholarship somewhere,” he said. “She’s a beast.”
When hearing that her brother called her a “beast,” Lalelei laughed and said she takes it with “good connotations.” She and Hercules are very close, and she joked that they were “partners in crime” while growing up.
Hercules is one of seven children — four girls and three boys — of Sophie and Sama Mata’afa, and football is a big deal in the family. The oldest brother, Saunalu, played linebacker at Lahainaluna High School. And the youngest brother, Matai, is a senior defensive end at the school, and could follow Hercules to Washington State.
Another popular sport in the family is wrestling. Hercules was a high school state finalist as a junior and senior in wrestling.
Family members grew up regularly wrestling with one another, often on the beach. And Lalelei said she beat Hercules a number of times.
“We haven’t wrestled in a while, but I remember beating him when he was in high school a couple of times,” she said. “He knows I’m strong, too, but we have respect for each other. He always likes to say stuff like, ‘Don’t mess with my sister. She’ll beat you up.’ ”