Friday, January 24

Defensive lineman Atonio Mafi reminisces on childhood memories of Bruin-Trojan rivalry

Sophomore defensive lineman Atonio Mafi has started in all of the UCLA football's 10 games in 2019, racking up 27 total tackles, four of them being for a loss. Mafi will participate in his second crosstown rivalry game Saturday, after earning the start at the Rose Bowl in 2018. (Mia Kayser/Daily Bruin staff)

Atonio Mafi said he always knew he would grow up to be a Bruin.

The sophomore defensive lineman for UCLA football (4-6, 4-3 Pac-12) grew up in the Bay Area, but said the Stanford-California rivalry wasn’t the historic matchup he was most concerned with. Instead, he and his older brother reenacted a YouTube video of the Bruins and Trojans walking up to each other during pregame when they were younger – and Mafi always pretended to be a Bruin.

“Me and my brother used to act it out, and you could honestly ask him, I used to act as a UCLA player,” Mafi said. “On the video … this was, like, in 2008 when we were younger on a family computer and we used to act it out.”

Mafi said he wouldn’t reenact the face-off without his brother, but he did say the two siblings would don each school’s respective color and get in each other’s faces.

“I really liked the color (blue),” Mafi said. “That’s just me being a little kid.”

But looking back, Mafi also said he had always wanted to come to Westwood for more practical reasons.

“It was almost my dream school,” Mafi said. “I wanted to move away, I didn’t want to stay too close to home. I had to try and learn to be a man on my own, but also I’m a one hour flight away from my family if they ever needed me to be home.”

While the defensive lineman was reminiscing about his childhood memories of the crosstown rivalry, he said the Bruins still have work to do on the defensive side of the ball to prepare against the Trojans.

Coming of its 49-3 loss to then-No. 7 Utah, the UCLA defense gave up 201 yards on the ground – its highest total except for outside of its Sept. 14 loss against then-No. 5 Oklahoma when it gave up 309 rushing yards.

“Coach (Chip) Kelly, he had a really good analogy,” Mafi said. “He said, ‘Parents tell their kids not to touch the stove, but you don’t really know not to touch a hot stove until you touch it.'”

Mafi said Kelly’s message to the team was to emphasize how unprepared the Bruins were for their opponent last Saturday, with the team only fully realizing it once the game was already underway.

“You play a good team like that, you can’t make the mistakes that we made,” Mafi said. “Missed tackles, we just have to learn from that. Fix the errors and bring back what we weren’t doing last week and look forward to (USC).”

Saturday’s contest at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum will be Mafi’s second encounter with the Trojans after the then-freshman lineman earned the start up front and logged one tackle against USC last year. Mafi said the atmosphere in the Rose Bowl last year was special and he expects nothing less from the crowd at the Coliseum on Saturday.

While the Bruins have the chance to claim their second consecutive win over the Trojans, Mafi has technically been beating USC all his life – always winning the scuffle between him and his red USC T-shirt wearing brother.

“I’m taller than him, (even though) he’s a little … he weighs more,” Mafi said. “(He weighs more) … believe it or not.”

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Assistant Sports editor

Tay is currently an assistant Sports editor on the baseball, men's soccer, men's tennis, cross country and women's tennis beats. He was previously a reporter on the men's tennis beat.

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