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Bolsa Grande's Ma'alona is up for the challenge
Bolsa Grande's Manasseh Ma'alona is built like a 5-foot-10, 285-pound wrecking ball, but the soft-spoken and humble offensive lineman didn't believe his coach when he informed Ma'alona he had been selected to play in the 53rd Brea Lions Club OC All-Star Football Game.
"At first it was hard to believe," Ma'alona said. "I thought my coach was playing around. When they first announced the teams, I thought they were pretty stacked. It was a real blessing. My whole family has been all excited."
Ma'alona's family is large in stature and in the number of siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles who will be out in full force to support him and the rest of the South All-Stars when they take on the North on Friday at 7:15 at Orange Coast College.
Because he comes from a Samoan family, Ma'alona wasn't always the biggest kid.
"On my mom's side of the family I'm the biggest, but on my dad's side of the family I'm the smallest," Ma'alona said. "We got a really big family ... so many of them. We're going to be rolling deep that day (at the All-Star game)."
And it's a close-knit family. Ma'alona has two younger sisters, a younger brother and an older sister ranging in ages from six months to 19 years.
"I'm babysitting right now," Ma'alona said before a recent South practice.
Players from the Garden Grove League don't always get the same kind of hype as players from say the Trinity or South Coast leagues.
"There's not too many of us (on the All-Star team)," Ma'alona said.
Ma'alona is the only Garden Grove League player on the South roster. He said he sees tonight's game as a great opportunity to test himself against some of the higher-profile players.
"It's a great challenge coming from the level I was at and showing that I can hang with the big boys," Ma'alona said. "I've been looking forward to it.
"I've played with big guys, but not so many big guys. There's a lot of them that are even bigger than me, but actually it's been pretty fun. It just shows me where I need to improve and who I can go up against."
South coach Rick Gibson of Woodbridge said he believes Ma'alona will have no problem competing against the North after what he has seen in three weeks of practices.
"He's done well practicing against our defense," Gibson said, "so I'm sure he's gonna be very, very good."
Gibson said he was even more impressed by the way Ma'alona carried himself.
"He's a great kid," Gibson said. "I'm very impressed with him and what he does and how quiet he is about it. He's really kind of a throwback.
"He's an offensive lineman, which means he's not going to ask for a lot of glory anyway, but he's even quieter than an offensive lineman. He just does his job, has a smile on his face, plays and moves on."
Before he moves on to play football in junior college, Ma'alona, a devout Mormon, will go on a two-year mission when he turns 19 in a couple of months. It's something he has wanted to do since he was 5.
"All of the young men in the church are encouraged to go on a mission when they turn 19," Ma'alona said. "It's not really up to us (as far as the destination), it's more of a spiritual thing. We just prepare ourselves.
"We turn in our papers the moment after we turn 19 and they'll give us a call sometime right after to give us our mission and tell us where we've been called to serve.
"We go and preach the gospel in which we believe in. We just go door-to-door knocking to find those who are still just wandering around not knowing what to believe in. We just go around and preach the gospel."
Ma'alona isn't just dedicated to his family, religion and athletics, but also to his community. Ma'alona, a member of the Boy Scouts since he was 5, achieved the rank of Eagle Scout. He finished his Eagle Scout project last weekend. He created a solar-powered irrigation system for a traffic island in Garden Grove.
"Each boy in the Boy Scouts has an equal opportunity to rise to the rank of Eagle Scout, but it's hard to do and there are not too many of them out there," Ma'alona said. "It's one big Eagle project. It's for the candidate to show leadership and that you don't need an adult with you to do the project by yourself. I planned everything and I raised funds and I got some help from my family as well."
Ma'alona said he hopes to put all the leadership skills he learned in church, the Boy Scouts and football to good use one day.
"I've always wanted to coach," he said. "I've always wanted to teach other kids the sport. I'm currently coaching at my high school. I volunteered to coach the freshmen (at Bolsa Grande)."