HAWAII GROWN REPORT
MICHAEL PIMENTEL / UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA
Abu Ma'afala overcame a number of injuries the past two seasons for Cal but was still able to play in 24 games, including every one in 2006 when he finished with 23 tackles.
Finding gold at Cal
Abu Ma'afala has no regrets leaving Hawaii to play two seasons for the Golden Bears of California
When Albert "Abu" Ma'afala left Hawaii three years ago for Cal, he kept his eyes forward, promising himself to not think too much about what he was leaving behind.
For the most part, that's how it's been for the defensive lineman from Kamehameha, who battled through injuries to play in 24 games for the Golden Bears the past two seasons. But Ma'afala does admit to a little bit of wondering what things would've been like if he'd remained with the Warriors -- especially when UH went on a nine-game winning streak and finished 11-3 last season.
"I was in the hotel in San Diego (preparing for the Holiday Bowl) watching them blow up Arizona State. It was hard, because I was watching my boys play, and at the same time you want the Pac-10 to win," Ma'afala said. "It was good to see them balling like that and doing well. There was a part of me though that was thinking, 'What if?' But at the same time I was really happy that I ended up at Cal."
Ma'afala transferred after his true sophomore year because of a disagreement with UH coach June Jones about whether Ma'afala would redshirt or not the next season. Ma'afala and Jones both say there are no hard feelings, and Ma'afala proved it in 2005 by giving UH a scouting report on a common opponent.
This week, Ma'afala is home for the Hula Bowl at Aloha Stadium on Sunday. He is reunited with six former UH teammates on the Kai squad, including fellow defensive linemen Ikaika Alama-Francis and Melila Purcell.
"The last time I put on pads with them was spring '04. A lot of things changed. Ikaika's a big-name guy, Mel came back from all his injuries. Dane (Uperesa) ended up being an awesome, awesome player. And of course, Leonard (Peters). Reggie Bush said that was the best guy he played against in 2005. It's just going to be fun to be out there with them again."
He certainly had some fun in his first UH game, the season opener in 2002 against Eastern Illinois. Ma'afala intercepted a Tony Romo pass and returned it 32 yards for a touchdown in the Warriors' 61-36 victory.
JOHN DUNBAR / UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA
Abu Ma'afala (43) transferred to the University of California from Hawaii after his sophomore year when he had a disagreement with head coach June Jones.
Injuries began to affect his playing time in 2003.
"Didn't play much that year," Ma'afala said. "It'll be fun to walk in there again and look up in the stands and see the field again. Just that drive to Aloha Stadium (on Monday) was pretty awesome."
After sitting out 2004 when he transferred, Ma'afala was in on 17 tackles in 2005, including a sack of Matt Leinart in the USC game.
Despite a neck stinger, Ma'afala started every game but one in 2006 and was in on 23 tackles.
"I got kind of hemmed up at the beginning of the season with a stinger and that kind of stuck with me the whole season. It was a challenging season, but I'm blessed to be here."
Ma'afala commuted a total of 100 miles to Berkeley and back each day from Tracy, Calif., where he lives with his wife and son.
He is projected as a late second-day draft pick or free agent. His versatility will likely get him a look somewhere.
"I played D-end the whole year," the 6-foot-2, 258-pound Ma'afala said. "But they're still trying to market me as a D-tackle and D-end for the league. Time off has allowed my neck to heal. I'm a little more free and unrestricted and can go out and play my game and show that I deserve a chance.
"All that is secondary to the fact that I need to get my speed up, and my strength up. I don't really care where I get my weight. Faster and stronger, that's what matters."
If pro football doesn't work out, he has a degree in American Studies to fall back on.
"I can go into teaching, and I'm also interested in looking into dentistry or nursing," Ma'afala said.
He is joined on the Kai team by four other players who graduated from Hawaii high schools and played at mainland colleges. They are center Frank Fernandez (Saint Louis/Harvard), guards Palauni Ma Sun (Kahuku/Oregon) and Tavo Tupola (Kahuku/Utah) and receiver Caleb Spencer (Kamehameha/Nevada).