Editor’s note • This story is available to Salt Lake Tribune subscribers only. Thank you for supporting local journalism.
Mateaki Helu’s ability to make quick decisions on the field has made him a threat on both sides of the ball for the Tooele Buffaloes.
Helu’s quick decision-making off the field has made him an early prize for the Utah Utes.
While the high school football recruiting class of 2022 has yet to put ink to paper, but the University of Utah football team has already started to look beyond that. And after receiving an offer from the Utes in August, Helu quickly became the Utes’ first commit for the Class of 2023.
“It’s just the perfect school for me,” Helu said. “I was wanting to stay close to home, and it’s 30 minutes away. It felt like a family over there and I was welcomed there and they love me and that’s why I couldn’t wait to commit.”
Helu and the Buffaloes kick off the Class 5A playoffs on Friday night against Box Elder, and Helu will be looking to showcase the skill and athleticism that helped lead Tooele to a 7-2 record in the regular season.
Helu committed to Utah as an athlete but says he would most likely play on the defensive side of the ball when he suits up for the Utes. As a hard-hitting linebacker, the 6-foot, 200-pound Helu has racked up 50 tackles (32 of them solo) and 2.5 tackles for losses.
But right now, Helu puts up even more impressive numbers on the offensive side of the ball.
A season ago, Helu ran for more than 500 yards in four games before getting injured.
“So a lot of people didn’t know how great he really is,” head football coach at Tooele Andru Jones said. “I mean, we knew he could do it and be strong, it was just getting him on the field, keeping him healthy.”
This season, junior has rushed for 1,077 yards and 13 touchdowns. He has broken the 100-yard total in seven games this year — including an opening week performance when he rushed for over 200 yards on just eight carries.
“Every time I ... get the ball, I just get a different vibe and like I’m in my own zone,” Helu said. “So being able to do that more this year is just a blessing that I have.”
But Helu is more than happy to do whatever the team needs him to do to get the job done.
Jones says all of Helu’s accomplishments on the field pale in comparison to what he does for the community as well as his fellow teammates.
“He’s a great leader, a great captain and we’re blessed to have him,” Jones said. “I love him to death. He’s a great kid. It’s not just the on-the-field stuff, the behind-the-scenes stuff that he does is unreal. ... He’s trying to help our community in our school there’s things that he does behind the scenes that people don’t see.”
Helu comes from a football family, with his brother Nukuluve Helu signing to play for BYU in 2020 before electing to serve a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day saints. Helu, who also plans to serve a two-year mission for his church before playing college football, says his family fully supports his commitment to Utah but the house will now be divided with one brother at each school.
Before committing to Utah, Helu wracked up offers from Baylor, Utah State, and BYU.
“He knew,” Jones said of Helu’s offer from Utah. “That’s one of his dream schools. He loves the state of Utah, he loves being closer to home, he’s got a bigger family so I think he wanted to be closer.”
But before he suits up for the Utes, Helu and the rest of the Tooele team have work to do.
“I think the best thing to do is prepare myself and also prepare my team as well for next season,” Helu said. “It’s a team sport. I’ll work, and I’ll try to perfect my craft as an individual but I will manage to focus on the whole team as well.”