Even as he pursued a Division I college football career at Nevada, Marc Ma already had plans to return to ‘Iolani to give back to the Raider program.
“He told me on more than one occasion, ‘when I’m done with football I’m going to come home and I want to coach, because I want to help kids,’ ” said Matthew Ma, Marc’s older brother and fellow ‘Iolani graduate.
“He wanted to give back to the school and he wanted to give other kids the opportunity that he received. He wanted to pass on his knowledge to them.”
Amid the outpouring of support his family received since Marc’s disappearance while paddleboarding in Lake Tahoe last Friday, Matthew Ma got an idea of the impression his brother, a member of ‘Iolani’s class of 2014, had already left on the players who followed him through the Raider football program.
On his trips home from Nevada, Marc would head down to ‘Iolani to work out and shared some of the tips he’d picked up in college. Since the search for Marc was classified as a recovery effort rather than a rescue on Saturday, Matthew said he’s received numerous messages from current ’Iolani players, some of whom had changed their profile pictures on social media to honor Marc.
“Every kid from ‘Iolani who called me or messaged me said he was the epitome of One Team,” Matthew said after playing in Monday’s Manoa Cup qualifying round at Oahu Country Club
“He loved the school, he loved ‘Iolani, he loved the Raiders, his coaches, his teammates. He did it all for the school.”
Marc Ma was a first-team ILH all-star defensive lineman in 2012 and ’13 and was an honorable mention All-State pick as a senior. He helped the Raiders win Division II state titles as a sophomore and junior, recording a sack in the 2011 final against Waipahu and posting eight stops in a win over Lahainaluna in 2012. He ended his high school career with 7 1/2 tackles in a loss to Kauai in the 2013 semifinals.
“Nothing was bigger than the team and nothing ever was bigger than his faith,” said Matthew, who brought the ‘Iolani helmet Marc wore during the state championship seasons to the course for Monday’s round.
According to reports, Marc was paddleboarding with several Nevada teammates on Friday when high winds generated rough swells. When his companions were swept off their boards, Marc went for help. While the rest of the party was rescued, Marc had disappeared in the waters.
“I think he symbolized what we’re all about,” said ‘Iolani football coach and co-athletic director Wendell Look. “We preach selflessness and sacrifice and according to the reports that’s what he did for his friends and his teammates and how this tragic accident unfolded. It doesn’t surprise me that he would do that. It fits him.
“He’s a fighter. He was chasing his dream of playing Division I football and he never lost sight of that and he worked and did everything he could to achieve that,” Look added. “By all accounts from what I’ve heard from people, this was going to be his breakout year at Nevada.
“We’re very saddened and all of our prayers and well wishes go out to the Ma family. They know ‘Iolani School is there for them and will support them in any way we can. … He’s a Raider true to heart.”
Ma also played three varsity seasons with the ‘Iolani basketball program, spending his sophomore and junior seasons on the Division I roster and his senior year with the Division II team. Raiders coach Dean Shimamoto recalled the contrast between Ma’s low-key demeanor off the court and his tenacity in the paint.
“He was relentless in everything he did. The guy’s motor was unbelievable,” Shimamoto said.
“We didn’t know how he would do it sometimes. Offensive rebounds, he was just monster. … He just played with a ton of heart, a ton of want, a ton of energy and just a competitor. When you interact with him, kind of quiet. But when you see him play, he was just kind of an animal.”
Matthew said Marc looked up to former ‘Iolani assistant and current University of Hawaii offensive line coach Chris Naeole and Raiders defensive line coach Mike Lafaele, who was a senior leader for the UH defensive line during the Warriors’ Sugar Bowl run in 2007.
“Marc really liked Coach Chris because he was hard nosed … no nonsense,” Matthew said. “He liked Coach Mike because he made something of himself. He worked from the bottom up and that really inspired Marc because that’s kind of who he was.”
Marc dressed for games last season at Nevada but didn’t get on the field and redshirted. Matthew said Marc had grown to 6-foot-3 and bulked up to 255 pounds in preparation for his sophomore year with the Wolf Pack.
“He worked so hard for it, he got way stronger and maintained his speed,” he said. “He did it by the book, the way you’re supposed to, but that’s how he lived too. Down the straight and narrow path in his faith.”