Growing up in a small community about four hours away from any professional sports team, Josh Mauga’s heart has been set on gold.
Watching the 49ers every Sunday during the fall wasn’t uncommon as Mauga grew up envisioning himself being on the same field one day. He knew what it took to reach that level, putting in countless hours in the weight room, on the field and in the classroom. He didn’t play competitive football until high school because of Pop Warner’s weight restrictions at the time and the Sierra Youth Football League didn’t exist yet.
From the time he stepped onto the field as a freshman, we were seeing a star in the making.
Mauga made the varsity team as a sophomore, which was uncommon across the Division I level, and he was part of many memorable moments. From the Greenwave snapping a homecoming-losing streak, upsetting Galena on the road during the Grizzlies’ homecoming to winning MVP honors of the Sertoma Classic, Mauga has been an ongoing football headline in Fallon.
And it didn’t stop in Fallon.
Thanks to some recognition from former Fallon coach Chris Klenakis, who was with the Wolf Pack, and garnering interest even from Pac-12 schools, Mauga, a linebacker, was able to stay close to home to complete his college degree and play Division I football at Nevada.
Like with the Greenwave, Mauga was part of history as Nevada won a bowl game after upsetting nationally ranked Fresno State during his freshman year. The Wolf Pack engaged Boise State in that quadruple overtime classic in 2008 and Mauga closed out his career in style by returning a Kellen Moore interception for a touchdown in a close loss to Boise State in his final game at Mackay Stadium.
Mauga didn’t have any weaknesses, except staying healthy.
He encountered two different injuries at Nevada, which raised a red flag when he went to the NFL Combine and couldn’t participate in the physical drills. Mauga went undrafted but was picked up the Jets and played for four seasons before becoming a free agent this past offseason.
The injuries came back to haunt Mauga, ending two of his seasons at New York prematurely.
But several months after being a free agent this year, Mauga found a new home in Kansas City and will be coming back to the Bay Area for the first time since New York visited Oakland three years ago. Call it destiny, luck or good timing, but Mauga’s familiarity with the defensive coordinator from his Jets days to knowing the team’s consultant, ex-Nevada coach Chris Ault, Mauga was given another chance to succeed.
And he hasn’t disappointed.
Mauga performed well during training camp, earned a spot on the official roster and because of an injury to Joe Mays, he has started every game this season and will be on the same field as the 49ers this Sunday at Levi’s Stadium. It’s not the exact dream of playing with the 49ers but this opportunity is the next best thing as he’ll be on the opposite side of another former college teammate, Colin Kaepernick.
Mauga has made the best of every situation and has rarely felt discouraged when the injuries, especially, tried to take him down and end his career. He could have called it quits several times during his time in New York but he knew he had more to offer.
Mauga’s perseverance and determination, and a little stubbornness, made him a great player with the Greenwave and the Wolf Pack. It’s made him into a starting linebacker in the NFL, playing on one of sports’ biggest stages.
Thomas Ranson can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.