At 6-foot-1 with lightning-quick reflexes, Isaac Slade-Matautia was, arguably, the most dangerous defender for the Saint Louis Crusaders on the basketball court during the 2015-16 season.
A left-hander with solid handles, mid-range accuracy, instinctual passing and shot-blocking, ball-hawking defensive skills, Slade-Matautia fits the bill of a what-coulda-been on the hardwood. He’s not going to miss the game all that much, though.
Now, as a 220-pound senior — he has picked up roughly 20 pounds since that long hoops season — the standout linebacker is part of an elite corps for Coach Cal Lee’s defense.
“He’s a physical guy. He likes to make contact. I’m not saying only him, but everybody. I like the physical part and the kids want that,” said Lee, a former standout at the same position during his playing years at Willamette College. “Those guys are very excited about the game.”
Slade-Matautia has offers from eight FBS programs: Arizona, Arizona State, Central Florida, Colorado, Hawaii, Nebraska, Washington and Washington State.
Mililani, which hosts Saint Louis on Saturday in the first preseason weekend of the season, hasn’t forgotten Slade-Matautia’s impact last year. Saint Louis eliminated a banged-up Trojans squad in the state semifinals.
“He is one of the best linebackers ever to come out of the state,” Mililani coach Rod York said. “His athletic ability is uncanny because he’s not that big, but he trains with Chad Ikei and he’s developed a lot of explosive power. I think he power cleans almost 300 (pounds), which is rare for a guy his size. He’s a field general. You can see it from our side of the ball. He makes guys better with the plays he makes on the field.
Where Slade-Matautia will land position-wise at the next level is going to be interesting. He’s explosive enough to cover ground and get jumps on deep balls as a safety. He could bring that quickness and physicality to the box and remain at linebacker. Gaining another 10 or 15 pounds before his first college game is not out of the question. By then, he might be 230 or 235 pounds, and he could grow another inch or two. Or more.
“He’s definitely an outside linebacker or strong safety,” York said. “I think he’s athletic enough to play free safety, too, but at the same time he’s one of the best linebackers to come out. Those are good options.”