LINCOLN — Nebraska’s newest commit for the 2020 recruiting class carries a big hit stick on the football field.
“I’m good at hitting people,” Eteva Mauga-Clements said last week. “Yep. That’s what I’m good at.”
That’s part of why Mauga-Clements, an inside linebacker from Diablo Valley (Calif.) Community College, didn’t break the news of his verbal pledge to the Huskers, which occurred Tuesday night. Diablo Valley coach Mike Darr confirmed it, as did his father, Derrick Clements.
And it’s part of how no one knew, until Clements confirmed it, that Mauga-Clements was actually committed to San Diego State before he flipped to the Huskers.
But NU pushed hard — and pushed the right buttons — the last month. Nebraska inside linebackers coach Barrett Ruud was a hit with the family, especially dad. And Clements, who owns a gym along with being a defensive coordinator at Las Lomas High School, knows the history Nebraska represents. And that led to the moment his son got the NU scholarship offer that would change his plans.
“You have to visit Nebraska,” Clements told his son, who lived in American Samoa for 18 years and would have been OK playing at SDSU. “It would be un-American not to.”
So, the family went. And they all loved the experience.
Nebraska Director of Performance Nutrition Dave Ellis explained how the 6-foot-1, 206-pound Mauga-Clements would gain weight — 20 or 30 pounds, perhaps — through NU’s strength and conditioning and nutrition programs.
“He’ll be a science project,” Clements said. “In a good way.”
Ruud and defensive coordinator Erik Chinander showed film of Nebraska’s defense and explained Mauga-Clements’ role in it. NU’s academic and life skills support staff presented their vision, too. Nebraska’s official visit hospitality, Clements said, was “top notch.”
“Whether you open a door to the right or the left, there’s someone at Nebraska who wants to make my son a better person,” Clements said.
The “even-keeled” Scott Frost — as Clements described him — was the closer. He asked questions and didn’t badmouth San Diego State once, which impressed the family.
Frost asked Mauga-Clements what he thought. Then he asked the family. He laid out the timeline for needing Mauga-Clements’ decision, too.
The answer essentially came Monday night, when Mauga-Clements called San Diego State and decommitted. One night later, he stood in Diablo Valley’s weight room to inform Frost he was picking Nebraska.
The Bay 6 Conference defensive player of the year, who finished with seven sacks and 23 tackles for loss last season, became the second junior college linebacker to commit to Nebraska’s 2020 recruiting class. He was unrated by major recruiting services and there are only a few minutes of online highlights.
Nebraska found him, Clements said, because Darr and Clements sent film to all “the top 25 schools” they could think of. NU liked it. So did a lot of other teams, mostly in the Pac-12. But the Big Ten appealed to Mauga-Clements because it was one of two football conferences, along with the SEC, that he watched most.
“The Big Ten is a prestigious conference,” Mauga-Clements said.
Mauga-Clements came with Darr’s strongest recommendation, too. In more than two decades of coaching, Darr said, he’s never coached a better kid — or one with a better story.
“He’s the American Samoan version of Captain America,” Darr said.
According to Clements, he and Mauga-Clements didn’t see each other for more than a decade, from the time Mauga-Clements was roughly 5 years old until an all-star game in Hawaii after Mauga-Clements’ senior season. Months after that, Mauga-Clements visited the mainland for the first time and fully reunited with his father, stepmother and two stepsisters. Clements had played junior college football at Diablo Valley, so he sent Mauga-Clements there to play for Darr.
“Coach Darr gets guys scholarships,” said Clements, who has known Darr for 25 years.
Mauga-Clements arrived at Diablo Valley as a 5-11, 165-pound safety, redshirting his first year. Over the next two seasons, Mauga-Clements added mass, Darr said, without losing speed. He moved from safety to inside linebacker.
“You turn on his film and you can see the burst, the speed,” Darr said of Mauga-Clements, who’d have two years to play two seasons. “He’s just scratching the surface of his ability at linebacker.”
Clements agreed, joking NU will have to teach Mauga-Clements more about the strike zone so as to avoid targeting penalties.
“He’s still accelerating when he’s two inches away from you,” said Clements, adding that Mauga-Clements’ 40-yard dash time in a sterile setting is no different from Mauga-Clements’ time in a game with pads. “He just runs through people.”
He becomes the 15th commit in NU’s 2020 class and the only inside linebacker after Independence (Kan.) Community College’s Jamoi Hodge decommitted last Thursday after being effectively dropped from the class. Hodge had four years to play three seasons. Mauga-Clements, on the other hand, will have three years to play two seasons, though it is likely, given Nebraska’s quick and heavy interest, that Mauga-Clements is pressed into action immediately on defense and special teams.