By Chris Murray • email@example.com • January 6, 2011
SAN FRANCISCO -- It was his true freshman season and Vai Taua had just quit the Nevada football team. He wanted to go home, but there was a complication. He wasn't welcomed at home."His dad said, 'Don't come home here,'" Wolf Pack coach Chris Ault recalled. "Then he went to his uncle and he said, 'You're not coming here.' He ended up with Uncle Chris."
And what a perfect marriage that has been.
Ault allowed Taua to return to the team after the running back tearfully asked if he could come back about a week after quitting. Taua has been thanking Ault with rushing yards and touchdowns ever since.
Taua's career at Nevada -- which wraps up during the Wolf Pack's Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl game against Boston College on Sunday -- has been marked with enormously high peaks and deep lows.
The 5-foot-10, 220-pounder ranks second in Wolf Pack history in rushing yards (4,512), fourth in rushing touchdowns (53) and is a three-time All-WAC first-team honoree.
But he's also made some big mistakes.
In addition to quitting the team as a freshman, Taua was ruled academically ineligible prior to last season's Hawaii Bowl, helping trigger an embarrassing 45-10 loss to SMU. He also was arrested in the summer of 2009 for failing to pay parking tickets and for removing police boots from his car.
On Wednesday, Ault remembered the young Taua, the one who quit the team. That Taua wasn't fit to play college football, Ault said. The new and improved Taua is what the veteran coach affectionately calls a "Nevada back."
"He wasn't tough enough," Ault said. "He's changed. What you've seen during his time here was the transition from a good high school running back to a Nevada running back. You might not be the biggest guy, the strongest guy or the fastest guy, but if you're a Nevada back, you learn to get the job done."
Taua said he's matured heavily during his time at Nevada. He's thankful to be given a couple of second chances, which he's put to good use."There are a couple of occasions where I think back and go, 'Oh, man, that could have been my last day on the team,'" Taua said. "Going back to my freshman year, I left the team. Last year, you go back to the bowl game and Coach Ault could have kicked me off the team. In the end, it's turned out well. I think I've learning something from every experience here. I've had to go through things and push through things and it's been a good road."Taua said he's thought back to last year's bowl game quite often this week. Instead of being with his teammates at the Hawaii Bowl, Taua had to stay home and watch his teammates on television. It was the most gut-wrenching time of his career at Nevada, but now it's used as a springboard for jokes."The jokes are still coming from the guys," Taua said. "When I got off the bus here, guys were, like, 'Oh, Vai you came this year.' The jokes keep coming and all it does is make me think of that day and how I need to redeem myself this year."
Taua is coming off one of the best seasons in Wolf Pack history. He accounted for 1,750 yards and a school-record 22 touchdowns this season. He became the first Wolf Pack running back to earn AP All-American honors in the program's FBS history.
"Vai is the kind of player who's irreplaceable," Wolf Pack quarterback Colin Kaepernick said. "He's an excellent player. He's very hard-working. At the same time, he keeps the mood light, he keeps things fun. It's really hard to describe how much he brings to the team."
Taua said it's starting to sink in that his historic Wolf Pack career only has a few days remaining. He'll leave Nevada with a college degree and memories that will never melt out of his mind.
The fun-loving Taua never fails to recognize his offensive linemen for his litany of record-setting marks. He calls himself Kaepernick's "sidekick." He's served as an excellent Robin to Kaepernick's Batman.
"I'm real proud of Vai," Ault said. "He's the only All-American on our football team. He had as good a senior year as any back I've had. He's as good as any back who ever played at this university. This year, Vai came alive."The football things you can see. But he came along as a person and as a leader. What I loved about Vai this year -- and I'm anxious to see him this Sunday with the same attitude -- is that he's going to find a way to get it done. He's not going to be denied. That's a different personality than before."