A lot has happened in a year for Oregon inside linebacker Isaac Slade-Matautia. He experienced his first live college football game, broke his collarbone to halt his strong freshman season, rehabbed and added almost 20 pounds.
Now, the healthy and respected MIKE linebacker is majorly contributing and the front-runner to start alongside senior Troy Dye. Slade-Matautia could be Oregon’s x-factor, yet he’s flying relatively under the radar… And he likes it that way.
A former four-star prospect and a top two player from the state of Hawaii, Slade-Matautia attended St. Louis High School, the same school quarterback Marcus Mariota attended. The two have clear similarities in their soft-spoken nature and intense work ethic; Slade-Matautia emulates the Heisman Trophy winner and aims to follow in Mariota’s footsteps.
“I talk to his brother (Matt Mariota) a lot,” Slade-Matautia said. “I ask his brother, ‘What did Marcus Mariota do when he was in college? Did he go out? Did he have social media?’ The answers are no… I want to do what he did and hopefully get the same result.”
No Instagram, Twitter, Facebook or burner accounts for 6-foot-1 235-pound linebacker, just like Mariota. The sophomore stays in, studies film, arrives early to practice, leads by example and demands the most from his teammates in a positive way. He’s earned the respect from his teammates by his calm command of the defense. Oregon senior offensive lineman Shane Lemiuex picked Slade-Matautia as ‘Best in Fall Camp’.
“He’s quiet but has become a very vocal guy on the defense and a great pass rusher,” Lemieux said. “He’s not afraid to come down the A-gap and smack someone.”
With Kaulana Apelu’s departure, the starting role is Slade-Matautia’s to take. Lack of size was a slight on Slade-Matautia last season. Not only does he feel more comfortable at 235 pounds, it’ll help with the adjustment for more reps and he has been able to maintain his speed.
His accountability helps the Ducks trust him to make the calls on the field, set the front and get the coverage correct.
“I think he runs the defense really well, he has good control, guys trust him,” Dye said. “We all buy into backing him and believing in him… I know he’s going to have a breakout year this year.”
In Oregon’s latest scrimmage, Slade-Matautia made an impressive interception that displayed his knack for running to the ball and showcasing his strong hands.
“It was a man-to-man coverage. The ball came my way and I was there to jump the route,” Slade-Matautia said. “Knowing everything I was able to overcome, being injured and all that, getting that pick helped other players be confident in my plays.”
Slot wide receiver Jaylon Redd said he’s always aware of the physical presence of Slade-Matautia has in practice.
“You always gotta keep your eye on him,” Redd said. “He might catch you slipping a little bit. He’s focused, a quiet guy. He knows what he is doing.”
Last season, Slade-Matautia saw action in seven games before missing the last six games due to injury. He made 20 tackles, including 13 solo and two for loss.
Fair warning for Pac-12 offenses, it is Slade-Matautia's season and he’s looking to take advantage of slip-ups.