One of the first people Josh Mauga saw when he arrived in St. Joseph, Mo., made him feel like he found his home away from home.
The least likely person to be seen wearing red greeted him in the hallway before he tried out with the Kansas City Chiefs last week. He passed his physical and was invited to training camp to compete for a spot on the 53-man roster as an inside linebacker.
“It was crazy seeing him being that it’s been a couple years since we last spoke,” Mauga said of seeing former Nevada coach Chris Ault, who’s in his second season as a team consultant. “I had to give him a hard time because I’ve never seen him in red before since we were never allowed to wear it because it resembled UNLV colors.”
Ault wasn’t the only familiar face.
Mauga’s defensive coordinator from the Jets, Bob Sutton, is in his second year with the Chiefs and a former Wolf Pack teammate, James-Michael Johnson, is also competing for a spot on the team. Mauga, who is listed at 6-foot-1, 245 pounds, hasn’t played since the first month of the 2012 season, was reunited with Sutton, who also coached the linebackers in New York.
“One of the things we’re trying to do here is one, we’re trying to develop competition, and competition is a great plus for us,” Sutton told the team website. “So, I think the competition at the inside-outsider linebacker is very good — the way it’s stacking up right now.”
Knowing that Sutton was with the Chiefs made it easier for Mauga to pick which team would help get him back onto the field. The fifth-year veteran said he performed well during his tryout and that there were no signs of his injury that kept him out of work for more than a season.
“The first couple of days I was definitely rusty out there,” said Mauga, who recorded 44 tackles and an interception in 29 NFL games over four seasons. “Sitting out for a year really does make a difference but I have been making some strides these last couple of days and I’m starting to feel more and more comfortable out there each day.”
Kansas City wasn’t the first team to make contact with the ex-Greenwave and Wolf Pack star.
Tampa Bay called Mauga on July 18 and invited him for a tryout, but Kansas City and Cleveland also showed interest. The Chiefs gave Mauga a look last week. Because of Ault and Sutton, Mauga said the Chiefs were his top choice with Cleveland next.
Mauga felt it was his best chance to get back onto the field because of the familiarity with Sutton.
Practices have gone well, including a goal-line tackle of running back Jamaal Charles, and Mauga has worked with Johnson, who was a redshirt freshman during his final year with the Pack. Over the weekend in the first full-contact practice, Mauga worked with the first team defense against the first team offense with Joe Mays also at inside linebacker.
It doesn’t hurt that the Chiefs play in the AFC West and will visit the Bay Area twice this season with a stop at the new 49ers stadium in October and then the O.co Coliseum in Oakland in November.
“It’s not quite the West Coast but it’s closer and the Chiefs do play a lot of West Coast teams so that I am very excited about,” Mauga said.
But he’s trying not to look ahead.
The first step is to make a good impression during training camp and excel during the team’s first two preseason games against the Bengals on Thursday and the Panthers on Aug. 17.
“If I make the final roster, it’ll be special to be playing in front of all the people that love and support me,” he said. “Although the games will be away, it’ll be like a home game to me. I was fortunate enough to play in one of the nicest stadiums in the league in New York being that it’s only a couple years old. And now I’m looking forward to not only playing in Arrowhead, but getting a chance to experience the Niners’ new stadium.”