Midway through its quest for a third consecutive big-school state title, just what Chandler High’s loaded football team didn’t seem to need was another weapon. A big weapon.
They got one, nevertheless, when 310-pound senior Matthew Pola-Mao, once regarded among the top linemen in Arizona, became eligible.
Moving from one football power to another, Pola-Mao transferred to Chandler from Mountain Pointe in the off season when his family moved. He had to sit out the first five games under AIA transfer rules but he now is providing a late-season spark to the already-strong Wolves’ roster.
“When I first got here, they had a perfect plan to put me in right away as part of the rotation,” Pola-Mao said. “And, it’s also a lot more than the game here. I’ve learned a lot about football and just getting ready for college in general.”
He said he instantly fit in with the Wolves roster, as part of a three-man defensive tackle rotation. In his first three games, he recorded 13 tackles, including a sack and another tackle for loss.
Pola-Mao was well rested. Before missing the five-games for the transfer, he missed almost all of last season, his junior year, for the Pride because of an injury. He’s still knocking the rust off after essentially a season and a half out of action, but recruiters still have their eyes on him.
Calling him a large defensive lineman is an understatement. Pola Mao also is skilled, having sharpened his technique on both sides of the line since 2015. Pola-Mao uses his big body to bull-rush and clog running lanes. He regularly takes on double-teams, which creates one-on-one match ups for other Chandler defenders and allows them to make tackles for loss.
It was frustrating to wait so long, he said, but the layoff motivated him to produce when he finally got his chance.
Chandler coach Shaun Aguano said he could tell Pola-Mao was itching to get on the field, but said that he had to work himself into playing-shape after being out so long. He still made an early impact with Chandler, regularly playing on the scout team in game preparation and acting as one of the senior leaders in practice and on the sideline at games.
“He did anything we asked him to, and was lifting and running with us and came to every practice. That’s hard to do when you’re not getting to play, but he did a good job with it,” Aguano said.
As a freshman in 2015, Pola-Mao recorded 50 tackles as he started most of the season at Mountain Pointe. He was a major contributor on both sides in the Pride’s run to the state-title game in 2016, where they fell to Chandler. He had recorded four tackles – one for a loss – in Mountain Pointe’s 52-7 regular-season victory over Chandler on September 8, 2016. That was the most-recent loss by the Wolves to an in-state team. Aguano remembers the difficulty of game planning for Pola-Mao.
“He was really active and a big guy that we had to block,” Aguano said. “We’ve seen enough of him. Now we’re glad he’s with us.”
Pola-Mao’s older brother, Isaiah, is a strong safety at the University of Southern California. The popular theory is that Matthew will follow him to USC, although he has yet to announce a college commitment. He has several scholarship offers and plans to take official campus visits after the Wolves’ season.
Mountain Pointe, which prides itself on its tough identity and physicality, can’t help but imagine where it might be if Pola-Mao still was part of its defense.
Through nine games, the Pride are 5-4 but three of their losses were by one play in the closing 2 minutes. Could Pola-Mao have made a play in a goal-to-goal situation that got the Pride into the end zone in the closing seconds against national power South Jordan, Utah, Bingham? Could he have done something to keep Queen Creek from driving 80 yards for the winning TD in the closing minute? Might he have pressured Desert Vista quarterback Parker Navarro and influenced what proved to be his late game-winning pass?
Mountain Pointe senior kicker Ben Abercrombie remains one of Pola-Mao’s good friends on his old roster, a group he still keeps in contact with. Abercrombie said it is disappointing to not have him with the Pride, but they do not have hard feelings toward him.
“There’s been a little bit of going back and forth just because he’s on a rival, but he’s got a lot of guys here that want him to do well. We just want to beat him if we play against Chandler, but it’s all friendly,” Abercrombie said.
Pola-Mao said his time on the bench made him more of a vocal leader. Chandler was 7-1 through eight games, and will likely be the top seed in the 6A postseason bracket. He hopes his leadership contributes to another state-title run.
“I learned a lot by being on the sideline and cheering teammates on. I did that for basically a whole season at Mountain Pointe, and then half a season here,” he said. “I had to learn how to be a leader, because I had to have a way to impact the game, and it’s worked for me.”