Fred Matua, a tough and animated offensive lineman for USC’s national championship teams in 2003 and 2004, died Sunday in Los Angeles of a heart-related issue, the school announced. He was 28.
“It is incredibly sad that Fred has left us at such a young age,” USC Coach Lane Kiffin, an assistant at USC during Matua’s Trojans career, said in a statement. “Our thoughts are with his family at this difficult time. The Trojan Family has lost a true warrior.
“He brought a defensive lineman’s mentality to our offensive line and was a big reason for the success we had on those national championship teams. He was a loud, passionate and feisty player who competed on every play in every practice and every game. He was the heart and soul of those offensive lines.”
The 6-foot-2, 305-pound Matua played both ways at Wilmington Banning High and as a junior helped led the Pilots to the 2000 City Section championship. He was regarded as one of the top defensive linemen in the nation as a high school senior, but USC coaches thought his fiery intensity would translate well to the offensive line when he arrived in 2002.
Matua redshirted his first season, started eight games as a redshirt freshman in 2003 and helped the Trojans finish No. 1 in the Associated Press poll. He started every game during USC’s unbeaten 2004 season that ended with a rout of Oklahoma in the Bowl Championship Series title game. He also did not miss a start in 2005, when the Trojans finished the regular season unbeaten before losing to Texas in the BCS title game.
Matua made himself available for the 2006 NFL draft and was selected by the Detroit Lions in the seventh round. He was cut by the Lions and had stints with the Cleveland Browns, Tennessee Titans and Washington Redskins. He also was in the United Football League.
Matua once said that he got his toughness from playing pick-up games as a child against relatives who were more than a decade older.
“Those guys told me, ‘If you want to play, we’re going to hit you hard,’” Matua said in a 2001 interview. “They didn’t lie.”
Former USC coach Pete Carroll and former Trojans teammates took to Twitter to express their thoughts after learning of Matua’s passing.
Carroll: “So saddened to hear about Fred Matua passing away at age 28. Very tough news this morning”
Deuce Lutui: “To my beloved brother FRED MATUA the guy who is a big credit to my career he sacrificed himself to lift me I love U”
Shaun Cody: “Great Trojan. Even better person. RIP Fred Matua”
Matt Leinart: “So sad to hear that my friend and teammate Fred Matua has passed. Words just can’t describe it. RIP brother! You will be forever missed”
Matua is survived by his mother and stepfather, his grandmother, a sister and his daughter, Tiamoni, 4.
Services are pending.