Malaki Ta’ase admittedly enjoyed flying virtually under the radar as a sophomore at Mountain View last season.
To him, it was motivation.
Now nearing the end of his junior season, Ta’ase has become one of the most dominant defensive ends in the state. He is tied for the most sacks in Arizona with 13 on the year in seven games. Had the 2020 season not been shortened due to the coronavirus pandemic, Ta’ase would be in contention to reach the all-time sack record set by Central alum Azur Kamara in 2015, when he finished the season with 25.
“I just aim to be the best me I can be,” Ta’ase said. “I want to achieve great things in my career, and I’ll put in whatever amount of work is needed to do that.”
But what helped Ta’ase evolve into one of the state’s best pass rushers in short order? Ta’ase said it’s not so much as a matter of “what” but “who.”
Ta’ase first began playing football at a young age. He followed in the footsteps of his older brother, Mata’ava Ta’ase, who dominated for Mountain View at wide receiver before serving his two-year church mission and continuing his football career as a 6-foot-4, 245-pound tight end with the Gila River Hawks of the Hohokam Junior College Athletic Conference – the new level of juco football in the state.
Ta’ase said it took time for him to be known as his own person rather than “Mata’ava’s little brother.” But he acknowledges that’s what happens when a player first steps foot at the varsity level for the first time as a freshman with an older brother having made an impact on the program.
“I remember watching him when I was in elementary school,” Ta’ase said. “Just knowing he was really good at football, I wanted to be like him. He kind of paved the way for me to work to get my own name. I’m now Malaki rather than his little brother.
“But it’s been fun. Especially now that he gets to see me play.”
Ta’ase was never unmotivated being in his brother’s shadow. If anything, he used it as a fuel to his internal fire.
As a freshman, he entered the program at 6-foot-1, 220 pounds. He said that height and weight measurement was generous. Since then, however, he’s gained more than 20 pounds of muscle and now stands nearly 6-feet, 3 inches tall.
With his growth came a much-improved level of strength. Ta’ase now has the ability to overpower opposing offensive linemen, many of which out-weigh him by as much as 20 to 30 pounds. But that hasn’t stopped him from dominating on a weekly basis. Much of Mountain View’s success this season can be attributed to the defensive front-seven, coach Mike Fell said Ta’ase is the leader of.
“I think it started in the offseason,” Fell said. “He started to exhort himself during workouts. He was always the first to finish in sprints and the first one to take reps. Guys just kind of followed him.
“When your best player is leading like that, everybody falls in line.”
Ta’ase’s leadership shined throughout the summer when Mountain View and other programs were attempting to conduct workouts during Arizona’s first major surge of coronavirus cases. The outbreak eventually led to several programs, including Mountain View, taking a few weeks off while cases plateaued.
Ta’ase continued to work during the team’s down time. He kept referring to his sophomore season as a motivational factor. In 2019-20, he thought of himself as just an above-average player after recording eight total sacks in 12 games.
To him, that wasn’t good enough. He wanted to take the next step to become elite.
“I worked with my dad on my technique, footwork, basically anything I could do to improve my game,” Ta’ase said. “I didn’t want to have another season of one sack games. I aimed to have these breakout games where I get three or four sacks every time.”
Ta’ase was well on his way to averaging that mark every game before running into a couple of tough matchups. He wasn’t able to record any sacks against a tough Red Mountain front in the third week of the season. But he made up for it a week later with a four-sack game against Desert Vista.
While he aims to out-perform himself on a weekly basis, he remains content with the overall outcome of the games. Now in Week 8 and preparing to face Corona del Sol, Mountain View is 6-1, its best start in years. The Toros are well on their way to clinching a spot in either the 6A Conference playoffs or perhaps a spot in the Open Divison.
By nature, Ta’ase aims to have the opportunity to prove himself in the Open Division against the state’s top teams. Whether or not he and Mountain View are able to do that remains to be seen.
But one thing is certain, with the help of a Ta’ase-led defense, Mountain View is quickly putting itself back on the map.
“We hear some people saying, ‘oh, maybe Mountain View is back,’” Ta’ase said. “All I have to say to that is yes, it is. We all have one goal and that’s to win a championship.”