Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Multi-Talented Myles Muagututia

Multi-sport athletes at Stanford are not uncommon. Toby Gerhart, one of the most prolific running backs in Cardinal football history, moonlights as a scrappy, power-hitting outfielder on the baseball diamond during the spring.

Freshman walk-on safety Myles Muagututia (pronounced "mwa-guh-tuh-tee-ah") will join the select club of multi-sport Cardinal athletes in 2009. In fact, the other sport Muagututia thrives in provided him with an avenue to the football field.

“Initially I was here for volleyball,” he said. “Coach [John] Kosty had watched me play club volleyball so he wanted me to play for Stanford, but he also talked to the football coaches about me. So he was basically my bridge for getting into Stanford football.”

Muagututia was a highly recruited volleyball prospect out of Francis Parker High School in San Diego. His senior campaign was riddled with flashy statistics such as 359 kills, 196 digs, 25 blocks and 15 aces. Armed with an eye-opening 44-inch vertical, Muagututia was honored as a Junior Olympic All American and named one of the Top 50 seniors in the nation by Volleyball Magazine.

Muagututia had offers to play for some of the premier Pac-10 volleyball programs, including UCLA, where his older brother Garrett Muagututia is a 6-5, 225-pound senior outside hitter for the Bruins and has also been a member of the 2009 U.S. Men's A2 Team that played this summer in the Pan-American Cup in Mexico.

The prep football career of Myles Muagututia wasn't nearly as decorated as the sport above the net. He began playing football his sophomore year and only put two full seasons under his belt because of injury. Francis Parker is also a small private school that didn't garner the attention some of the surrounding San Diego programs received. Regardless, Muagututia was a Second Team All-State selection as a senior and secured a couple of opportunities to keep playing the sport he was most passionate about.

“My second school was the University of Hawai'i, I had a full-ride to play football there,” said Muagututia. “Football is my favorite sport so when I decided I wanted to play football first; I would go to wherever I got a chance to play. Stanford also gave me the chance to play volleyball, so it worked out really well.”

Scholar-athletes at Stanford face the complication of balancing schedules with academics, sports and social life. Maintaining stability in that itinerary is grueling enough with one sport, but balancing two sports can be a daunting task. Muagututia is confident he can make the pieces of the puzzle fall into place.

“I've been talking to Coach Kosty and Coach [Lance] Anderson about how I will be able to do the crossover,” Muagututia said. “I am going to talk to my academic advisor in terms of class schedule and then also communicate with the coaches to make sure we stay on the same page. I think as long as we're all on the same page, it will be fine.”

Muagututia played a plethora of positions during high school including wide receiver, tight end, safety and linebacker. He has been taking reps exclusively as a safety during Cardinal training camp, and prefers to play on the defensive side of the ball.

“Just the physicality, the drive and passion that comes along with the defense getting hyped up,” he said. “You've got to stop that offense; that drive just gets me going.”

Some of the numbers Muagututia put up as a receiver his senior season may suggest he could be better utilized in the receiving game. The 6-2, 210-pound athlete amassed 32 receptions for 473 yards and 12 touchdowns. Muagututia is confident that if needed, he could transition back to offense without a hitch, and will do whatever is the best for the team.

Muagututia confesses that the life of college football is treating him well. He allowed that waking up in the wee hours of the morning for practice isn't his favorite thing to do, but his teammates have been supportive throughout the transition from high school to the NCAA ranks.

“All of the guys are really welcoming and they help me get through whatever I need,” he said. “Football has definitely been fun and there couldn't have been a better group of guys to be gathered into. They've really helped me a lot, especially being a walk-on, because I'm not one of the main recruits.”

Expectations for the freshman remain subdued and extend beyond getting playing time.

“I just want to become the best player I can be,” he stated. “I may not be a starter, but I want to contribute to the team wherever I can. At the same time, I want get better as a player, teammate and person.”

Two people who molded Myles into the person he is today are his parents, Faauuga and Kathleen. Myles’ mother attended UC Riverside where she played volleyball. His father excelled in football, basketball and volleyball at Carson (Calif.) High School, but bypassed collegiate sports and became a Navy SEAL – serving 24 years in the Special Operations Force. He also participated in the 1994 Olympic Winter Games in Lillehammer, Norway, competing for American Samoa in the "Bobsleigh" event!

While his father was stationed in Hawai’i for three years, Myles became acquainted with his Samoan culture. The Samoan heritage embodies deep family tradition and allowed Myles to discover a leisure he still practices today.

“I am a down-low singer and play the Ukulele,” Muagututia said. “I actually have my Uke in my dorm room so I play a lot. When I was younger my family used to throw Luaus and my brothers and I were a performance group so I would dance and they would sing and play.”

Athletic genes circulate through the Muagututia family tree. Myles has two cousins, Matthew Malele and Norris Malele, who were defensive and offensive linemen for Cal. Myles said since coming to Stanford there has been somewhat a family swing in football allegiance.

“Before I came here it was all about Cal to support my cousins,” he said. “Now since they graduated, all of my uncles and family have been transitioning to supporting Stanford.”

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