Taua deserves to hear his name called

Vai Taua deserves to hear his name called during the NFL draft this weekend.

But will he?

The Nevada Wolf Pack running back continues to be the most overlooked great player in college football. Taua rushed for more yards (4,476) over the last three seasons combined than any player in college football. His 4,588 career rushing yards are more than any running back available in this year's NFL draft. He is one half of the most dynamic rushing tandem in college football history along with teammate Colin Kaepernick.

You would think that Taua would be a lock to be selected during the NFL's seven-round draft party this weekend in New York. Heck, given the fact that this draft is quite possibly the thinnest at running back in the history of the NFL, you'd think Taua would hear his name called no later than the fourth round.

Unfortunately, that doesn't seem to be the case.

All of the so-called draft experts and seemingly thousands of mock drafts have Taua picked in the sixth or seventh round at best. Many don't have him picked at all. Most scouting reports floating about the internet list at least two dozen running backs available in this year's draft ahead of the Pack back.

That is simply absurd.

If there are indeed two dozen running backs in this year's draft better than Taua, well, they didn't earn that status on a football field wearing pads while 11 guys were trying to take their head off. They were given that meaningless ranking by some guy holding a stopwatch while they ran on a track in shorts or impressed people in a weight room.

On a football field, there wasn't a better back in the country the last three years than Taua.

It is every running back's goal in every game he plays to rush for 100 yards and score a touchdown, right? Well, Taua averaged 102 yards and 1.2 touchdowns in each of the 45 games he played in a Wolf Pack uniform.

Over his last three seasons, he averaged 121 yards and 1.4 touchdowns a game. That's like hitting a home run in every baseball game you play in.

That's what Taua did for the Pack. Without fail.

And he wasn't always doing it against Nicholls State, Eastern Washington, New Mexico State, Idaho and UC Davis. Taua was at his best against the best, in the games that meant the most to his team.

In three games against Boise State, a team that nobody runs well against, he rushed for 367 yards and three touchdowns. In three games against Fresno State he ran for 531 yards and six touchdowns. In two games against UNLV he rushed for 311 yards and four touchdowns.

He ran for 133 yards against BYU, 114 against Notre Dame, 151 against Cal and 101 against Maryland. When his team needed to clinch a Western Athletic Conference title on the road at Louisiana Tech this past year, Taua ran for 162 yards and two scores.

Kaepernick may have pulled the trigger, but Taua put the pop in the Pack's Pistol offense.

Yes, the past four seasons will always be known as the Colin Kaepernick Era at Nevada. Kaepernick was an amazing player. We might never see the likes of him ever again at Nevada. He was that special.

But if there is a mental snapshot of this just-concluded era that you should never forget, it's this: Kaepernick taking the snap in the Pistol formation, the offensive line opening up a hole in the defense, Taua taking the handoff and before you could say "Chris Ault," there was Taua exploding through that hole and running free and hard down the middle of the field on his way to the end one.

We saw it over and over.

The sight of Taua running down the middle of the field, running away from defenders, all the way to the end zone is the signature play of the Pistol. Without that play working to perfection, the Pistol does not work. That is the play opposing defenses must respect when they play against the Pack's Pistol.

Taua earned that respect for three years.

Taua, after all, scored 45 rushing touchdowns in his career. He went on an 89-yarder against Idaho in 2009. That same year he had a marvelous 71-yarder against Boise. Against Fresno in 2009, he went for 50 and 65 yards. Last year against UNLV he exploded for 72 yards. He went for 73 against San Jose in 2010, 70 in 2009 and 57 in 2008.

His signature run, the one that secured his place in the Wolf Pack Hall of Fame, came on a frustrating night in Fresno last November 13 when he burst up the gut for a 24-yard touchdown with 4:51 to play to stun the Bulldogs 35-34 and keep alive the Pack's WAC-title dreams.

Big moment. Big play. That was Taua. Over and over again.

Taua came up huge so many times in a Pack uniform that we took it for granted. We just expected him to get his 100 yards and score his touchdown or two.

It was automatic.

And we never gave him the credit he deserved.

Oh, to be sure, Taua never wanted any credit. There might not have been a running back with 4,500-plus yards and 50-plus touchdowns in NCAA history with less ego, less look-at-me attitude than Taua. He was definitely all about the glory of the name on the front of his jersey rather than the name on the back.

Taua, without fail after every game, would credit his offensive line for all of his successes on the field. He'd tell you how he could have driven his SUV through the hole that led to his 70-yard touchdown. And after he credited the big boys up front, he would credit Kaepernick for calling the right play at the right time.

Well, it's time Taua starts getting some of that credit.

Only one running back in the long history of the Wolf Pack football program has rushed for more yards than Taua's 4,588. That would be the great Frank Hawkins, who ran for 5,333. Hawkins, by the way, had 236 more carries than Taua in his career. Give Taua another 236 carries and he would have flirted with 6,000 yards.

Taua's 22 touchdowns last year are a Wolf Pack single-season record as are his 132 points scored. His 320 career points are fourth in Pack history.

"He's as good as any back who's ever played at this university," Pack coach Chris Ault said the week before the Pack's appearance in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl in January.

That was the first time anyone said that about the kid from Lompoc, Calif., who didn't even know if he wanted to play football as a freshman. We overlooked Taua and took him for granted because, well, Taua did that to himself throughout his Pack career.

He quit the team his freshman year and went home for a week. He made a silly mistake and found himself academically ineligible for the bowl game after his junior year. He had some problems with parking tickets early in his career.

It was almost as if he never envisioned the NFL at the end of his Pack tunnel.

Well, he sees it now. And he's as ready for the NFL as any running back in this draft.

Now, if only the NFL knew that.

There are, for some reason, a bunch of running backs listed higher than Taua on most draft boards.

That list includes names like Mark Ingram of Alabama, Mikel Leshoure of Illinois, DeMarco Murray of Oklahoma, Jordan Todman of Connecticut, Jacquizz Rogers of Oregon State, Ryan Williams of Virginia Tech, Daniel Thomas of Kansas State, Shane Vereen of Cal, Taiwan Jones of Eastern Washington, Kendall Hunter of Oklahoma State, John Clay of Wisconsin and Da'Rel Scott of Maryland.

Ingram is the only one expected to go in the first round. Taua is expected to go in the last round, if that. I'm sorry. The difference between Ingram and Taua is not six rounds. It might be six picks. Maybe.

Taua, though, didn't play in the SEC. And he doesn't have a Heisman Trophy.

Taua, though, also didn't do himself a lot of favors at this year's Indianapolis combine in February. He has had to fight the less-than-outstanding numbers he put up at the combine over the last two months. He ran a less-than-mediocre 4.62 in the 40-yard dash. He reportedly improved that time at the Wolf Pack's Pro Day in front of two dozen or so NFL scouts but most backs improve their 40 times at their pro days.

At 5-foot-10, 215 pounds, Taua is kind of stuck in the middle. Too slow to be a featured back and too small to be a power back. And, oh yeah, the Pack plays in the WAC.

Maybe those scouts should go talk to Boise State, Fresno State, Cal, Notre Dame and BYU about Taua. Maybe they should go back and review all of the reports that said Emmitt Smith and Walter Payton were too small and too slow. Maybe they should spend more time watching game film rather than looking at 40-yard dash times.

Football is funny that way. Players get drafted based on skills demonstrated outside of the actual games. They lift a bunch of weight, run fast on a track and, presto, they are a first round pick. It would be the equivalent of baseball scouts picking players based on how well they hit in batting practice or seeing how far they can smash a ball off a tee.

Well, nobody throws you a curve in batting practice and the tee doesn't move. And nobody is trying to take your head off in the 40-yard dash.

All we know is that Taua rarely got caught from behind the past three years. Nobody hit a hole harder, faster and with more authority. And nobody smelled the end zone better. Taua was a money back, picking up the crucial touchdowns when his team needed them the most in the biggest games.

"He has a terrific field presence when he gets the ball down the field," Ault said this year. "That's a natural gift."

Taua has gifts you can't measure with a stopwatch or in a weight room.

You can only measure it on the scoreboard at the end of the game.

Taua, make no mistake, does have his supporters.

"He was consistent in all phases," wrote the Sporting News after Taua practiced during the week leading up to the East-West Shrine game. "He runs with a low pad level and keeps his head up which allows him to locate the cutback lanes."

"He could be tremendously productive in the right system," wrote College Football News.com. "He's physical and tough. He won't always go down with one shot. He always seemed to make the right cut."

That's the Taua we saw at Nevada.

Over and over again.

And that's the Taua that deserves a phone call from some NFL team this weekend.


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