Malauulu’s physical style of play pays dividends for KSU


Junior linebacker C.J. Malauulu made his debut with Kent State ealier in the season against Alabama. Malauulu made first start against Louisiana on Sept. 10. Photo by Matt Hafley.

AJ Atkinson

Number 43 runs around wildly on the football field. It almost appears he, unlike his teammates, does not have any defensive guidelines. Yet despite his informal style of play, it seems he is involved in every tackle.

The player described is not the Pittsburgh Steelers’ safety Troy Polamalu but Kent State junior linebacker C.J. Malauulu.

“He’s a kind of guy who roams around,” Kent State coach Darrell Hazell said of Malauulu. “It almost looks like he’s not part of the structure all the time. He plays a little out of control as a young guy, but he’s very instinctive. He runs to the football. He’s going to be a great player.”

The Flashes are excited to see what the junior transfer from Palomar Community College in California can do for them on defense. Unlike Polamalu, who as a safety has the ability to do whatever he wants, Malauulu must find a balance between structure and “freelancing” as Hazell calls it.

“I think I’m good at being allusive,” Malauulu said. “I like to think of it as a mind game. If I see that a lineman is going to block me one way, I’m going to try and show him I’m going to do something differently than what I’m doing.”

Hazell said Malauulu knows only 60 percent of the playbook at best, where the rest of his linebackers know about 90 percent. Malauulu has the ability to do this because of his agility and quickness.

Nonetheless, every risk comes with the possibility of failure. Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein’s 47-yard run that began at his own three-yard line was an example of a chance gone wrong for Malauulu.

“There was a play in Kansas State where I thought I could take a short cut through my run-through gap,” Malauulu said. “I almost made it, but the quarterback broke out for a long run. That was one of the risks where I didn’t make it.”

Hazell said the staff allows Malauulu to play with this freedom and is forgiven knowing that he is still young and figuring everything out.

“He’s a young guy trying to learn the system,” Hazell said. “He’s learning everyday. He’s going to make mistakes, but he’s athletic enough to recover from those mistakes. When he knows how to get lined up, he’s going to be a great player.”

Malauulu said though the Flashes are not off to the start they wanted, going 0-3 in their first three games he is still happy he chose Kent State over schools such as Utah State, Kansas State, Washington and San Diego State. He said situations just kept arriving that pointed him more and more to Kent State.

Malauulu was scheduled to board a plane in San Diego and fly to Ohio for his visit to Kent State in December to meet the coach along with other recruits (in December, a part of former coach Doug Martin’s coaching staff was still in place).

“One out of a million days in San Diego, there was fog, and the flight couldn’t come through,” Malauulu laughed. “I don’t know if it was supposed to be, but my plane was delayed, and the plane couldn’t come until January when the new coaching staff was here. So everything worked out. I got to meet the new coaches, and I liked the feel of the direction they were going on my visit.”

Going into this weekend’s game, Malauulu said the team is still optimistic and confident they will turn this season around.

“We have the talent and the ability to win the (Mid-American Conference),” Malauulu said. “We just have to get things together and play more consistently. South Alabama is not a bad football team. They had their first loss in three years. We have to be on our feet and hopefully we can bring the battle to them.”

The Flashes look to obtain their first win of the season Saturday at 3:30 p.m. at Dix Stadium against the South Alabama Jaguars.


AJ Atkinson at [email protected].