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Friday, March 05, 2010

Taua learns lesson from academic trouble

By Graham Watson

Vai Taua could barely watch the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl, but his parents wanted to see it.

So, Nevada’s star running back sat there, with them, in their living room, and watched SMU deliver a 45-10 beatdown of his teammates. It was one of the worst moments Taua could remember and the feeling was compounded because Taua was in California, suspended because of academic issues, while his team needed him on the Islands.

“It hurt to watch my team out there without me knowing that I let them down,” Taua said. “It was in my control and I let them down. It hurt to watch and to even think about when I had to go home and I didn’t even get to make the trip. It hurt a lot.”

Taua fully admits that the circumstances that had him in his parents’ house on Christmas Eve instead of at Aloha Stadium were his fault. He got so caught up in trying to advance his potential football career that he forgot that if he didn't pay attention to his studies, football would no longer be an option.

“At the beginning of the summer, every player sets their goals and their outlook of the season, and I had big goals for the season,” Taua said. “I wanted to try to leave early. I wanted to have those kinds of stats. Then I hurt my elbow and when that happened and they told me I was going to be out 4-to-6 weeks, I kind of put class on the backburner.”

Taua spent all of his time in rehab and in the weight room trying get back on the field that he started to miss class. Homework was no longer a priority and his test scores were dropping. Even when he returned to the field, Taua put his energy into 100-yard performances and impressing potential suitors. By the time Taua turned his attention back to school it was too late.

“I was pretty much playing catchup, so [being ineligible] was kind of in the back of my mind,” Taua said. “But at no point did I ever think or even imagine that I’d miss that game.”

On Dec. 18, Nevada headed to Hawaii without Taua. The Wolf Pack also left without third-leading rusher Luke Lippincott, who suffered a season-ending toe injury in the final regular season contest.

Taua finished 2009 as the Wolf Pack’s leading rusher with 1,345 yards and 10 touchdowns. After returning from his injury, he rattled off eight consecutive 100-yard games. He could have tested the NFL waters, but he wanted to set things right with his teammates. So Taua heads into today’s first spring practice determined to make amends.

“I feel almost more motivated than ever,” Taua said. “Just missing that game and watching that, it just helped my drive and the way I want to push my teammates. There’s just a lot more motivation there. There’s a lot more dedication. I just hope that I can contribute again and be there for my team. I don’t want that to happen again.”

Taua still has goals for himself like working on his breakaway speed, becoming a threat in both the running and passing game and taking some of the pressure off quarterback Colin Kaepernick. But he’s also trying to get his team over the wall that it hit at Boise State after winning eight consecutive games. And he’s trying to be a leader and role model and win back the respect of his teammates not just for being a good player, but for being a good person.

“I had to get back on the field to get the goals that I had set football-wise,” Taua said he kept telling himself after his injury. “I kind of put school on the backburner and that was a personal choice that I learned from. I’m glad that I learned from it because I can tell others now that school’s got to be first. Without school there is no football. It was a learning experience for me and it’s something that I don’t want anyone else to have to go through.”

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