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Friday, August 11, 2006

Joshua Mauga eyes the inside

Nevada's Joshua Mauga looks to be in the starting lineup this fall. Mauga is one of nine Polynesians on the team.

Samoans: Daniel Agaiava, Nate Agaiava, Joshua Mauga, Jared Silva-Purcell, Vai Taua
Samoan-Hawaiian: Caleb Spencer
Samoan-Tongan: Sele Fauolo
Tongan: Charles Manu, Talaiasi Puloka

Mauga eyes the inside
Sophomore not the only one switching positions

Editor's note: This is another in a position-by-position series previewing the Nevada football team's fall camp.

Nevada football coach Chris Ault built his reputation riding the waves of offensive success with the Wolf Pack.

But the Hall of Fame coach has his theories on defense, too.

"You gotta build it from the inside out," Ault said. "If you can't control the middle, then you are in trouble."

And that theory was the onus for moving Joshua Mauga, a true sophomore and budding star, from outside to inside linebacker.

"I thought he was one of the best outside linebackers in the conference last year," Ault said of Mauga, who has met high expectations so far during his career. "We moved him inside so that he can cover the entire field. And that allows us to build this thing from the inside out."

It also gives the Pack a linebacking corps that is deep, experienced and talented.

Inside, Mauga will be joined by Jason DeMars, a senior who captured a starting role last year. The pair is backed up by Scott Garrison and Kevin Porter, a senior and a sophomore, respectively, each with something to prove.

Garrison is just 5-foot-11, 220 pounds, but Ault calls him one of the toughest players in the Western Athletic Conference. Porter is a sophomore who missed all of last season due to injury and is looking to make up for lost time.

Mauga's shift to the middle is expected to breathe new life into the career of Jeremy Engstrom, who has moved from inside to outside linebacker. The 6-1, 247-pounder stood out two years ago as a freshman with a team-best 97 tackles, earning second-team All-WAC honors in the process. But his production tailed off last year as he had just 35 tackles and eventually lost his starting job in the Pack's 3-4 scheme.

"We think we have found a home for him," Ault said. "He could not last inside there because he did not have the strength in there. But he fits well outside."

Barry Sacks, Nevada's co-defensive coordinator and outside linebackers coach, said the move helps Engstrom because it "narrows the field for him."

"It simplifies the game for Jeremy," Sacks said. "It took away all those other possibilities and responsibilities, and now he just has to worry about half the field. He had a great spring so we are excited going into camp."

At the other outside spot, the Pack has a budding superstar in Ezra Butler. Last year, Butler was second on the team in tackles with 75, first with tackles for a loss with 151/2 and he tied for the team lead in sacks with 5.5.

The junior has a sub-4.6 time in the 40-yard dash -- as do two or three other outside linebackers on the team.

"Speed is the most dominant factor in sports," Sacks said. "And we have speed outside. And if speed can play football, well ... we can be pretty good.

"(Butler) is just an extremely good athlete. He got better in increments last year and with his type of ability, the sky is the limit. His best football is still ahead of him."

With Nick Fuhr and Selevasio Fauolo backing up Engstrom and Butler, at least right now the Pack has eight linebackers who all have starting experience to cover sour spots.

"That is two-deep," Ault said. "It is not that they are all great players, it is just that they have all been out there on game day with that experience and with our coaching staff and our philosophy. That's something."

And that type of depth and experience should make for an interesting fall camp when practice begins on Sunday. No starting job is secure right now and the coaching staff is hoping for stiff competition and tough decisions by the end of camp.

"Football, more than any other sport, is such a prove-it type of game," Sacks said. "You've got to get your butt out there and prove it every single day. It's like playing H-O-R-S-E in basketball -- you can't just say that you've done it before. You've got to hit the shot. You've got to prove it. And these guys are going to have to prove it again this fall.

"Our fall camp should be very interesting."

The Nevada Wolf Pack’s Joshua Mauga started nine games at outside linebacker last season, but the sophomore will switch to the inside position this season.

The Nevada Wolf Pack’s Joshua Mauga started nine games at outside linebacker last season, but the sophomore will switch to the inside position this season. (DAVID B. PARKER/RENO GAZETTE-JOURNAL)

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