Goodbye and Hello
Former football standout and criminal justice grad joins KSU Police
KENNESAW, Ga. (Jun 5, 2017) — Less than a week after Malik Letatau graduated with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, he traded his commencement robe and the brightly colored Polynesian leis he wore to adorn it for a Kennesaw State University police uniform.
It’s the latest wardrobe change for Letatau, who for two years also donned pads and a helmet as a center for the KSU Owls’ football team. This one he hopes will be long-term.
“I pretty much knew I would end up in law enforcement,” said Letatau, who will spend the next several months in the North Central Police Academy in Austell, Ga., before becoming a “full-fledged” officer, hopefully in early January. “I had friends in law enforcement who I looked up to, and wanted to be like them and do something that would make a difference. I also knew I didn’t want to work in a regular, nine-to-five job.”
Letatau is used to the quick change. In December 2014, he was sitting in a psychology class at the College of San Mateo (Calif.) when he got a recruiting call from KSU coach Stewart Cook. Within a week, he was on his way to Kennesaw. He said he was undaunted by the fast pace of the transition from junior college, where he played left guard, to a becoming a member of KSU’s inaugural Division I offensive line.
“I did a little research and came out here during the winter break in December 2014,” said Letatau, a Palo Alto native who grew up in Mountain View, Calif. “I liked everything about the campus and the location, and the coaches were great.”
Even though he was moving a long way from his family and cultural community – his father is from Samoa and his mother from Fiji – he said he decided on the spot to transfer. “I’ve always been one to be independent and do my own thing.”
Early on, Letatau distinguished himself on the KSU football squad, becoming one of four team members to earn all-conference honors in the first year on the team.
“Malik is an outstanding young man who brought outstanding leadership and maturity to a young football team during a critical period in the building of the Kennesaw State football program,” said Grant Chesnut, the Owls’ offensive coordinator and offensive line coach. “His leadership was a key component to our success in the first two seasons.”
The traits Letatau demonstrated on the football field are the same ones that mark him for success as a police officer, Chesnut said.
“Malik has a strong work ethic and a tremendous desire to be great in all aspects of life,” Coach Chesnut noted. “He was constantly working to improve himself on and off the field. As an offensive lineman, you are ‘wired’ to protect and serve. It is not a surprise to me that Malik has chosen law enforcement as his career path. He has been protecting and serving his entire life.”
A spring 2017 internship required for his major introduced Letatau to the KSU police department and put him in regular contact with Sgt. Todd Jackson of the force’s K-9 unit. During the internship that stretched to five months, Letatau said he got to do more than the average intern would, due in part to his work with Sgt. Jackson.
“I gained valuable experience from witnessing the routines of a police officer, going on patrol every day, working events and observing the training of dogs,” Letatau said. “I’d always see Sgt. Jackson because he was around the football team. So, it was great to work in special operations with him.”
Jackson said Letatau’s performance on the field and during his internship played a role in the decision to hire him for the KSU police force.
“I have worked closely with the football team since the program began and have a lot of interaction with the coaching staff,” Jackson said. “I had numerous coaches speak highly of Malik's maturity and leadership on and off the field and his dedication to the team and his teammates.”
In addition, Jackson said, Letatau impressed the interview panel with his desire to give back and serve Kennesaw State University after he was given opportunity to move across the country, play football, and earn his degree here. His desire to learn throughout the internship also influenced the decision.
Jackson added: “He always asked questions to gather as much information as he could to learn about the job. He acted professional throughout his internship with his ability to communicate with officers in the department and on scene at calls for service. Most notably, he was with me on the scene of a plane crash that happened near campus. He handled himself in a very mature and professional way for a scene that was very chaotic and emotional due to the circumstances.”
Letatau is not certain where he’ll end up in law enforcement, but, influenced by Jackson, thinks he’d like to join a specialized unit. He is certain, however, that he has made the right choice of career and to remain at KSU.
“I’m really looking forward to working with the Kennesaw State police,” said Letatau, who adds that he is “forever indebted” to KSU for taking a chance on him, giving him a scholarship and a chance to play.
“I can’t think of a better way to repay the University. I really enjoy the camaraderie of being on a team. Being on the police force is being on one of the greatest teams there is.”
— Sabbaye McGriff
Photo by Lauren Lopez de Azua
A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers more than 150 undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its more than 35,000 students. With 13 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia and the third-largest university in the state. The university's vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the region and from 92 countries across the globe. A Carnegie-designated doctoral institution, it is one of the 50 largest public institutions in the country. For more information, visit kennesaw.edu.