A team turns to the junior-college ranks because it needs immediate help. Maybe that’s changing a little bit in the transfer-portal era, but for those of us following football longer than that it will remain the expectation. The expectation for JUCO players will perhaps always be that they make an immediate impact, shore up an immediate need.
Senior linebacker Eteva Mauga-Clements, arguably, hasn’t to this point, which makes his rise this fall camp so interesting. It’s not that Mauga-Clements hasn’t contributed. He’s played in all 20 games for which he’s been on Nebraska’s campus so far, but mostly on special teams, which can be easy to miss.
The difference now is, in his third season on campus, Mauga-Clements might really be in contention for non-special teams snaps.
““I think Va has had an extremely impressive camp so far,” Ruud said earlier this month. “This is year three in the program for him, so I think he’s probably made the biggest jump of anybody as far as just individual combination of skill level jumping up and just understanding of the defense.”
I would argue that’s not often the case for a JUCO transfer in his third season on campus. Mauga-Clements, if he delivers on this fall-camp buzz as someone who can spell Nebraska’s top two inside linebackers––Luke Reimer and Nick Henrich––has the potential to be a success story of his own.
“[Ruud] sees a lot of potential from me and I want to live up to that,” Mauga-Clements said. “I’ve been here for two years. I’ve been alright, but this year I want to set the bar high for myself and him.”
If that optimism holds for Mauga-Clements in 2022, it might be a rare success story for a junior-college recruit. If the assumption for such a player is immediate impact, paying dues for two years would certainly stand out.
That scenario is in play for Mauga-Clements, and that, despite the recruiting hype an official offer receives, wasn’t a given when he received his offer while still at Diablo Valley in California.
“I had a few offers, but the one I was focused on was San Diego State,” he said of the time Nebraska offered at the end of the 2019 season. “When Ruud called me, I really didn’t know what Nebraska was, but I had an image of how Nebraska is and I’d heard it somewhere.”
Mauga-Clements did his research after that offer. His dad filled him in on the Huskers’ historical standing if there was anything his son had missed. Mauga-Clements tried to “play it cool” in his conversations with Ruud, but he quickly found out about Nebraska’s football history.
Two seasons later, Mauga-Clements has emerged as a real candidate to spell Nebraska’s top two inside linebackers in 2022. Last season, Nebraska’s third option at inside linebacker––Northern Iowa transfer and now a contender for snaps at nickel Chris Kolarevic––made 27 tackles over 12 games, 13th on the team behind the 11 starters and part-time starter at safety, Myles Farmer.
If that’s all Mauga-Clements manages in 2022 it would be its own, sort of hard-to-see-unless-you’re-looking-closely, success story. The version of a junior-college transfer every football fan has in their mind is probably something close to Randy Gregory. He led the Huskers in sacks, by more than double, his first season in Lincoln.
A more realistic reality for Nebraska going forward might be how Mauga-Clements had done it to this point––he’s worked at it. The payoff, for him and Nebraska, might be just a few days away.
>>Here’s a little more on Eteva Mauga-Clements, who wowed media members after practice Thursday.
>>OL Coach Donovan Raiola is keeping a tight lid on his rotation ahead of the season opener, but Turner Corcoran, Nebraska’s starter at left tackle last season, is up for whatever.
>>Here be your quick hits from Thursday’s practice…
>>… and here be your videos.
>>Lastly, I host a podcast, though host seems like the wrong word since there are never any guests. Anyway, the I-80 Preview of the Northwestern game is out now.
Brandon is the Managing Editor for Hail Varsity and has covered Nebraska athletics for the magazine and web since 2012, Hail Varsity’s first season on the scene. His sports writing has also been featured by Fox Sports, The Guardian and CBS Sports.