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St. John Bosco’s Matayo Uiagalelei can lay down the beats on and off field

sophomore tight end Matayo Uiagalelei at school. (Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)
St. John Bosco tight end Matayo Uiagalelei is ready for his junior season.
(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

Fifth in a series of stories profiling top high school football players in the Southland by position.

Matayo Uiagalelei’s father, David, cried the first time he heard one of his son’s beats.

The elder Uiagalelei had tried to break into the music industry when he was younger. His dream didn’t pan out — he simply wasn’t good enough, he said. He prayed that one of his kids would fall in love with making music.

One of them did.

Around three years ago, David bought a computer that came with GarageBand. Matayo, at the time 12 years old, started messing around with it, watching YouTube videos on how to use the software. One day, he played his dad a sample he’d made.

“I said, ‘You getting paid?’” David said. “I couldn’t believe it.”

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Fast forward three years, and Uiagalelei is a dual-threat phenom on the football field, lining up on both sides of the ball as a junior for Bellflower St. John Bosco. When he graduates, he has the potential to be the No. 1-ranked recruit in the country at both tight end and defensive end says his coach, Jason Negro. Uiagalelei caught two touchdown passes and racked up 16 tackles in five games during the spring COVID-19 season, and looks to be in a featured role entering this fall.

Yet as physically imposing as Uiagalelei can be on the field, he’s also artistically gifted off of it, weaving together beat patterns as a producer.

“It’ll probably be one of my careers after football,” Uiagalelei said of producing music, “or even during football.”

A few seconds into rapper Trill Vont’s latest single “Long Road,” a producer tag rings out amidst the loop of an airy electric guitar: “Yo, Concrete, you made this?”

The identifier belongs to Uiagalelei. He goes by “@young_concrete” on both Instagram — where he’s amassed more than 17,600 followers — and Twitter.

It’s an apt stage name, indirectly connecting to the scuffs that mark his elbows on the football field. Early on in Bosco games, Uiagalelei barely spends a minute on the sidelines. He has but a second when coming off the field on defense to take a breath, before turning and jogging back out on offense.

“I try to tell people, ‘OK, it’s cool to start both ways, but you’re doing it at the Trinity League, at the highest level of high school football, and then you’re doing it as a sophomore?’” his father said. “I think any other kid would’ve broke down. … Not this guy.”

He stands 6 feet 5, weighing in around 260 pounds. Off a snap, Uiagalelei is more methodical than explosive, driving tree trunk-sized legs into the turf and pushing his way around one — or often two — blockers.

“A lot of kids as a sophomore that are that big, they’re still growing into their body and they’re a little bit awkward,” Negro said. “But he doesn’t have any awkwardness about him at all.”

Uiagalelei had no choice but to grow up quickly. He’s been playing football since age 5. But while many kids first fall in love with the game by playing a skill position, Uiagalelei took his licks in youth ball in the trenches of the offensive and defensive lines.

Those leagues separated out divisions by weight class. Thus, being big from a young age, Uiagalelei was playing against kids three or four years older than him.

“It was tough, but I always think it was a positive thing,” David said. “The one thing that I know about Matayo — mentally, he was strong.”

Uiagalelei’s brother D.J., now the starting quarterback with the Clemson Tigers, also played at St. John Bosco. And as D.J. would torch other high schools, watching from the sidelines was Matayo, a ball boy for the team until his freshman year and D.J.’s senior season. The younger brother understood Bosco’s “culture” immediately, Negro said.

With that intimate knowledge of the program, Uiagalelei set out to play both ways from his freshman season, following an eighth-grade year in which his father says he spent time at six positions. Negro said Uiagalelei’s ability to learn two game plans — splitting reps at practice between tight end and defensive line — was impressive.

“You have to give him a lot of credit for the mental side,” Negro said.

The connection in the younger Uiagalelei’s life between music and football, his father said, was a drive to be the best. Uiagalelei has spent hours watching YouTube videos of producers demonstrating their process, just as he has spent hours upon hours dissecting film of his team’s sets.

Uiagalelei’s father might have never made it in music as a producer. But he did make it in another sense. Thanks to a career as a bodyguard, he established 20 years of connections with industry titans such as Chris Brown, Rihanna and, most prominently, Shawn Holiday, then the co-head of Columbia Records’ urban music division.

Knowing Holiday had a weekly barbecue on Sundays with his producers and engineers, David Uiagalelei gave him a call, asking if he could bring his son and have him play a couple of tracks.

“That’s what he thought I was coming up there to do,” David said. “I already knew what was going to happen. I already knew, once Matayo played the track, Shawn was going to look at Matayo [and say], ‘You made this?’ And it happened, just like how I thought it was going to happen.”

Uiagalelei is again preparing to be a key player on offense and defense for the Braves this season while working with some up-and-coming artists. He doesn’t plan, at the moment, to make a decision on which position he wants to pursue in the future — just as he doesn’t seem to plan on choosing between music or football.

In the meantime, those who are watching him sack a quarterback or nodding their heads to his songs can be assured of one thing: he’ll keep his head down and continue working.

“This is the best part about Matayo; you hang out with him, you would never know any of this stuff, because he would never talk about it,” his father said. “All he wants to do is be a kid and have fun.”

Saturday: Arlis Boardingham, Lake Balboa Birmingham, defensive lineman

TIGHT ENDS TO WATCH

Keyan Burnett, Servite, 6-5, 215, Sr. Arizona commit has great hands, athleticism, toughness.

Nick Fernandez, San Pedro, 6-4, 270, Jr. Three-sport athlete.

Cody Hoffman, St. Bonaventure, 6-5, 240, Sr. Made impact in spring season.

Freddy Lujan, Bishop Amat, 6-1, 240, Jr. Transfer will fit in nicely.

Tanner Mehrens, San Clemente, 6-5, 215, Sr. School produces good tight ends.

Jack Pedersen, Vista Murrieta, 6-5, 245, Sr. UCLA commit has returned.

Matayo Uiagalelei, St. John Bosco, 6-5, 260, Jr. Setting the standard for excellence.

John Vanisi, Leuzinger, 6-3, 225, Sr. Aggressive, physical player.


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