Mauga casts a long shadow for Nevada
By THOMAS RANSON
Nevada Appeal News Service
Josh Mauga left big shoes to fill with the Fallon Greenwave four years ago. Now, he’s about to leave a second pair to fill with the Nevada Wolf Pack.
“He’s been a great role model for our kids and the program,” Greenwave football coach Ray Holladay said of the 6-foot-2, 245-pound Nevada linebacker. “There’s a young man (offensive lineman Harvey Dahl) in Atlanta who’s left some pretty big shoes to fill. He’s (Mauga) has got big shoes to fill, too. There are two pretty good guys for our athletes and program to aspire to be.”
The 2005 Fallon High School graduate will be playing in his final home game for the Silver and Blue on Saturday as the Wolf Pack entertains ninth-ranked Boise State in front of an expected sellout crowd at Mackay Stadium. Mauga, along with 13 seniors, will be honored before the 1:05 p.m. kickoff. The game will be televised nationally on ESPN2.
“It’s gone by so fast,” Mauga said of his college career. “I could sit here and tell you about all my freshman days in ’05. I’ve enjoyed it everyday.”
Looking back, the senior middle linebacker has no regrets, even after denying offers from Pac-10 schools Oregon and Arizona State, and Mountain West schools Utah and UNLV.
“There are times when I think about if I went to a Pac-10 school,” Mauga said. “I’ve had a good four years here. I have the best coaching staff.”
But Mauga said he made the right choice because he had the chance to play as a true freshman. And he didn’t mind being an hour away from his supporting cast in Fallon.
“They’ve been great,” Mauga said of his family and close friends. “They’ve supported me and have been to every home game. The best thing about it is they are only an hour away, so I can go visit them on weekends.”
LEAVING A LEGACY
Everything seemed to go Mauga’s way last year until a midseason injury.
“I was starting to peak last year before I got hurt,” Mauga said. “Then I went two steps back. I’m starting to work back to where I was last year.”
Thanks to a speedy recovery, Mauga bounced back and played in the New Mexico Bowl after missing most of the conference season and being ranked nationally in tackles and tackles for loss.
Nevada offensive coordinator and former Fallon coach Chris Klenakis said Mauga should finish the year strong, including the East-West Shrine game in January.
“Josh is a classy person … good student, good athlete and a good citizen,” Klenakis said. “If a father had a son who grew up to be like Josh, he would be a proud parent. The last four years Josh has become a student of the game.”
With two games left this year, Mauga is one of Nevada’s better tacklers as he ranks third with 44, and only trails two defensive backs. Because the Pack’s pass defense has been vulnerable, most opponents ran a pass-oriented offense, limiting the number of plays for Mauga.
“It hurts me a lot to know they’re not running the ball as much,” said Mauga, who’s considered one of the top linebackers on the West Coast.
A candidate for the Western Athletic Conference’s defensive player of the year, Mauga is also third on the team in sacks with 3.5 for a loss of 21 yards and has forced one fumble.
“As hard as I’ve worked out here, I do the same in school,” Mauga said. “If I didn’t have the grades, I wouldn’t be playing. I’m trying to work hard outside of school, too.”
Although it’s difficult to imagine with the college season still in swing, Mauga still has the dream of playing for his childhood team, the 49ers. The thought of seeing his name of the next Madden video game brings an overwhelming smile.
“I really don’t ever know. I’ve put it aside for the season,” he said. “If I go, I’m going to the Niners. It will be a dream come true. Any team would be nice.”
FROM THE WAVE TO THE PACK
Holladay knew Mauga was a perfect fit for the Pack after the annual Sertoma all-star football game in 2005.
“The game that impressed me the most was the Sertoma game,” said Holladay, who coached Mauga as a senior during his first year coaching the Wave. “We were fortunate and had McQueen and Douglas kids. … That was impressive to watch Josh with that many good players. He came out that second half of the Sertoma game and I wouldn’t be surprised if he had 15 tackles. That may have been the best game I’ve seen him play.”
Mauga and several others made Holladay’s first year special. The Greenwave won on its homecoming game and upset Galena on the road.
“That first year, he was helpful to everything we tried to establish,” Holladay said. “He still holds, to the best of my knowledge, the single-game tackles record with 23 against Spanish Springs in his senior year. He also had a 93-yard touchdown reception, another school record. He established his dominance at the high school level.”
Although the scenery changed when Mauga moved to Reno three years ago, his willingness and work ethic only grew stronger when he arrived on campus.
“It was huge for me coming from Fallon and not making the playoffs or winning a championship,” Mauga said. “I’m just trying to lead by example. Hopefully they (Fallon players) will follow in the same direction to create their own legend.”
After the Pack’s slow start, Mauga was instrumental in helping them win a share of the conference title, reclaim the Fremont Cannon from UNLV, upset nationally ranked Fresno State and win the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl in 2005.
“I haven’t beaten Boise since I’ve been here,” Mauga said of the game being one of the remaining tasks to accomplish before leaving. “There were seniors that told me we better beat Boise before you leave. We feel a lot more prepared (than 2006). We’ve been on a roll the last couple of weeks.”
Holladay, a season-ticket holder, has seen Mauga grow into one of the school’s best linebackers. Holladay, though, enjoyed watching Mauga play in an amped football atmosphere when Nevada traveled to Nebraska last season.
“He looked like he could play on either sideline,” Holladay said. “The Nebraska game was the most impressive game I’ve seen him play. He leads by example.”
Mauga, though, didn’t play football until high school because he exceeded the weight requirements for Pop Warner. Instead, he competed in baseball and wrestling until he reached ninth grade.
WRESTLING LEADS TO FOOTBALL SUCCESS
Mitch Overlie vividly remembers his first meeting with the future Nevada linebacker.
“When I first met him, I thought he was one of my high school wrestlers,” the 10-year Greenwave wrestling coach said of Mauga. “Coach (Keith) Boone introduced him to me, he shook my hand and his hand wrapped around mine. I thought he was a junior or senior, but he was a seventh grader.”
When Mauga finally entered Overlie’s program, the longtime wrestling coach knew he was a solid athlete and football player. He just didn’t know how good.
“I usually threw footballs at them (during practice) and he was coming at me,” Overlie recalled. “I threw one as hard as I could and he was five yards away, caught it and said ‘Here you go coach.’ If you watch him play, he doesn’t make many mistakes. He’s awesome to watch.”
After winning the heavyweight state title in 2005, Mauga still had his eyes on college football. But Overlie didn’t mind.
“Josh would have done good as a college wrestler,” Overlie said. “He’s made the right choice playing linebacker. Josh’s definitely a leader by example. He wasn’t the kind of kid who often vocalized. When he did, everyone shut up and listened. He’s usually spot on.”
If it wasn’t for wrestling, though, Overlie said it wouldn’t have prepared him entirely for college football.
“Wrestling and football go hand in hand,” Overlie said. “Both are very physical. Football’s a collision sport and wrestling is a design.”