Wolf Pack freshman running back Toa Taua sparks the return of a well-known name in Nevada sports.
Weighing in at 205 pounds, Taua ranks fourth in the nation among freshmen with 582 rushing yards this season. Taua also averages 6.2 yards per carry, good for 22nd in the nation. He credits his early success to the guys up front helping him get to the second level of the defense.
“The offensive line are putting in the work every day,” Toa said. “They spend the most hours inside the film room on what’s next for us and those guys make my job a lot easier.”
Toa is the younger brother of former Nevada running back Vai Taua. Under the pistol offense, his 4,500 career rushing yards and 53 touchdowns from 2007-10 still rank in the top five in school history.
Vai gets a first-hand look at Toa’s early success, as he’s in his first season as Nevada’s Assistant Director of Personnel and Recruiting.
“It’s been so much fun watching him play,” Vai said. “I see a lot of myself in him but he’s a lot better. He has this unique blend of speed and power that I never had at his age, so it’s really special to see him succeed as his older brother.”
Although Vai was in the middle of his college career with the Wolf Pack, he still served as a mentor for his younger brother.
“I’ve been able to coach Toa since he was in middle school,” Vai said. “And from there he’s taken my advice to the field and has improved upon it. As he’s getting older, I can talk to him more about my experiences playing the game and he’s taking it to a whole new level.”
Vai’s words of wisdom couldn’t have come at a better time for his younger brother. Toa’s rushed for 244 yards over his last four games including 126 yards and a score in a 33-14 victory over Hawaii Oct. 20.
“As an older brother, he always has his tips,” Toa said. “Playing the position I play, he always has some advice for me. We’re always at each other watching film or working and trying to get me better.”
Growing up in Lompoc, California, Toa and Vai share a similar physical style of running on the field. But their paths of reaching the University of Nevada differ from each other.
Vai lettered in football all four years and twice in track and field during his career at Cabrillo High School. After his stellar four years with the Wolf Pack, Vai signed as an undrafted free agent with the Buffalo Bills in 2011. He closed out his professional career with the Seattle Seahawks.
Toa took a different route, rushing for over 4,600 yards and scoring 73 touchdowns at Lompoc High School. He was garnering interest from Division-1 schools such as Washington State, Iowa State, California and Arizona State. When Toa ultimately decided to join the Wolf Pack, it wasn’t to follow in Vai’s footsteps.
“Vai was just an additional plus for me,” Toa said. “But what really made me come to Nevada was the home field and the family orientated program over here. These guys make me feel like I’m at home. I love the atmosphere here and I didn’t get that feel from other programs.”
Vai offered some subtle, but crucial advice for Toa during the recruitment process.
“I always told Toa to do what was best for him,” Vai said. “And I think he did that playing for the Wolf Pack, I couldn’t be more proud of him.”
Although football runs in the genes of the Taua family, the brothers share a lot in common off the field.
“Football is just one part of our lives,” Vai said. “We are a tight family and we have other interests apart from sports. Knowing Toa, we can always talk to each other about anything.”
Whether it’s playing one-on-one basketball games growing up or watching film of the upcoming opponent, Toa and Vai still share an unbreakable bond.
Isaiah Burrows can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @SagebrushSports.