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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Graduation day proud moment for Mateaki

 •  Pascual earns academic honor

By Leila Wai
Advertiser Staff Writer

Some 70 family members, including mother Uheina, father Tele and sister Ilaisaane, attended Donny Mateaki's graduation ceremonies.

Courtesy Ilaisaane Mateaki

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Having one more season to play is like icing on the cake for Washington's Donny Mateaki, who can now focus more on football.

Courtesy Ilaisaane Mateaki

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Uheina Mateaki remembers dropping off her son Donny at kindergarten, ready with words of comfort.

"When I left him behind, I told him 'Don't worry, I'll be back, don't cry,' " she said. "And he didn't. He was always independent. He was always strong."

On June 10 Uheina witnessed another milestone in Donny's education when he graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in history, receiving his diploma in front of about 70 family members.

"It was indescribable," Uheina said. "Sitting there and watching him walk, remembering the first time that he went to kindergarten, and now to watch him walk through that field with thousands."

Mateaki, a defensive end for the Huskies with one year of eligibility remaining, was the first of seven children in his family to graduate from college. He is also the first from his father's side of the family to earn a college degree; an aunt from his mother's side graduated from college.

"It was cool," said Mateaki, a 2002 Iolani graduate. "Academics is really important for me. My parents pushed me since I was little. Neither of my parents had a college education, and they wanted to make sure we had better opportunities than they did growing up. It's really important to our family."

Family has always been important to her son, Uheina Mateaki said.

"When he was young I would ask him what he wanted to be, and he said he wanted to be like his dad, taking care of the family and bringing home groceries," she said. "He was always a very responsible young man."

Mateaki's graduation was such a cause for celebration that family drove in from California, Oregon and Nevada. His maternal grandfather flew in from Tonga, and his parents brought lei.

"I was one of the few with lei," Mateaki said. "Everybody else was kind of watching, like 'Whoa.' "

He gave lei to some of his teammates who also participated in the ceremonies.

"It felt good, everybody showed love with giving lei, and it was cool to share that with others up here, too," he said.

Afterward, guests gathered at a restaurant, where Mateaki was able to reconnect with some family and meet others.

"It was good fun," he said.

Mateaki, who hopes to teach or work with children, needs to take at least two credits to be eligible to play in the fall, and still doesn't know what class he's planning to take.

Although it will be "something easy that doesn't take too much time," he doesn't plan on following former Southern California quarterback Matt Leinart, who took ballroom dancing to fulfill his final credits.

With more free time, Mateaki said he plans to work out more and watch more game film.

"It's going to be fun. There's so much to do with football," he said. "Classes are important, but I'm lucky not to have a heavy load so I can focus on football."

Mateaki hopes for an injury-free final season, after suffering two serious injuries in the past four years.

He tore a tendon in his left shoulder and ended up redshirting his freshman year. Then, in 2005, he missed spring drills because of foot surgery to repair a ligament. Trainers didn't expect Mateaki to return until the middle of the 2005 season, but he was cleared to play before the opening game.

Mateaki, who played in 11 games and was credited with 21 tackles, earned the team's Earle Glant Tough Husky Award at the awards banquet.

Now he's eagerly awaiting the upcoming season.

"I feel good, everything is healthy," Mateaki said. "I just want to get everything together."

Reach Leila Wai at lwai@honoluluadvertiser.com.