Nebraska Cornhuskers running back Marvin Scott III runs with during scrimmage
Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Eteva Mauga-Clements Looking to Earn Playing Time at Linebacker

August 18, 2022

Eteva Mauga-Clements never thought he’d be a linebacker as he started his football career.

Up until his arrival at Nebraska, he said he envisioned himself as a defensive back, either playing cornerback or safety. This was because he wanted to model his game after Hall of Fame safety Troy Polamalu, who, like Mauga-Clements, is of American Samoan descent.

In high school in California, he started out as cornerback, back when he was “super skinny.” He then started his college career at Diablo Valley Community College, where he entered as a safety and realized his skills weren’t up to his standards.

“When I went to JUCO I think I realized my athletic ability wasn’t there, like I was uncoordinated and stuff like that, so my coach got me right,” Mauga-Clements said on Thursday. “Took two years over there, I learned a lot as a DB.”

After year two, Mauga-Clements received offers from multiple FBS schools, now ranked as the top junior college outside linebacker recruit, and had his eyes set on San Diego State. He said he didn’t know all that much about Nebraska, but after the Huskers offered him, his dad educated him a bit.

“He’s older than me, so he’s like, ‘You know, Nebraska used to run things back then,'” he said. “I was like, ‘What? What are you talking about?’ So yeah, they’re in the Big Ten, I was like, ‘Wow.'”

He said he tried to “keep it cool” with Ruud when they called. He ended up taking the offer, joining the team as a linebacker in 2020. In the two seasons since, he’s seen a few snaps in that spot, but mostly has gotten on the field through special teams. Mauga-Clements has been happy to contribute in that area for the same reason he was willing to be a linebacker — wanting to help the team win.

“I really want to contribute to the team. I think that’s what I bring to this team,” he said. “Being on those special teams, like I said, I was really skinny back then so I was on special teams. And I wanted to do that for myself, to stay healthy and stuff like that. You know, make sure my stamina doesn’t go down with trying to gain weight and stuff like that. So being on special teams, just any way I could help out the team.”

In that span, he’s grown as a linebacker as well. Two weeks ago, Ruud praised Mauga-Clements for the progress he’s made, saying he’s made the biggest jump of anyone in the group and is probably the best at timing his blitzes.

Mauga-Clements also assessed his ability to blitz as a strength, along with his versatility and speed in general. Blitzing is something he said he did a lot at Diablo Valley, where he had 29.5 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks in 18 games. However, he’s not able to do that as frequently with the Huskers.

“Over here, man, you can’t just blitz every time because there’s issues. You know, there’s scholarship players over here. So they study film all the time,” he said. “So if a coach see you blitzing all the time, they might just run up a play away from you and that ain’t gonna work all the time, you’re just gonna get gassed out.”

He’s taken on a larger role in the locker room as well, stepping up as a leader. He pointed out Luke Reimer and Nick Henrich as strong leaders at his position, but said they encourage everyone else to lead in the same fashion. Mauga-Clements said he considers himself old as far as his experience with the team goes, meaning he’s responsible when younger players make mistakes.

His presence isn’t all business, though. Often, Mauga-Clements will be one to crack a few jokes, even if ill-timed, and lift up other players when they do mess up.

“I’m pretty hilarious,” he said. “When everyone’s feeling down, Coach Ruud is yelling at somebody, you know, we get them afterwards and say ‘Hey, don’t worry. We all been there.’ I got yelled at a couple of times. In my first year over here, I mess something up, that’s on me. I tell them hey, everyone goes through this but you got to learn through the burn. So I bring a couple jokes, maybe not the right time too but that’s who I am.”

Mauga-Clements hopes his growth will help him find his way onto the field as a linebacker in his final college season, and Ruud said the opportunity will be there. The linebacker knows its no easy road given the competition in the room, and he’s going to keep doing all he can to make it happen.

“We got Luke Reimer and Nick Henrich, that’s like, the best linebackers we have right now,” he said. “So I knew like if I wanted to get on that field, I got to do special teams first, and then grind my way up to playing together with them.”

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