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BY KERRY EGGERS/PORTLAND TRIBUNE/Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week brings football passion to Beavers

CORVALLIS — Most players wear down through the course of a long college football season.

Not Manase Hungalu.

"Last Tuesday was the best practice I've ever had with Manase in the last two years," Oregon State defensive coordinator Kevin Clune says. "Where a lot of players get beaten down, he is getting stronger and better as the season goes on. He has found a way to practice and play harder."

Players on losing teams rarely get Pac-12 weekly honors, but Hungalu's performance in Oregon State's 37-23 defeat at California last Saturday was not to be denied. The 6-1, 235-pound senior registered 20 tackles — 13 of the solo variety — and was named Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week. It was the most tackles by a Pac-12 player all season, and it could have been more.HUNGALU

"Manase had a heck of a ballgame," Clune says, "but he had four or five more tackles left in him."

"I left a lot of plays out there," Hungalu says. "Honestly, I should have had at least 30-plus tackles. Some of the runs they hit were through my gap. I stayed backside a little too much. I definitely should have made more plays out there."

Hungalu will captain Oregon State's defense Saturday when the Beavers (1-8 overall, 0-6 in Pac-12) play visiting Arizona (6-3, 4-2) for a 7:15 p.m. PT matchup.

"It's no secret that Manase is the leader of the defense," says Cory Hall, Oregon State's interim head coach. "He plays with great tenacity. He roams sideline to sideline. He is very passionate about football.

"The production comes from his overall understanding of the game plan and how (the opponent's) offense works. I've watched Manase grow as a player and a leader for us."

The Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, native ranks second in the Pac-12 with 81 tackles in nine games. He has two interceptions, including one he returned for a 21-yard pick-six in a 35-32 win over Portland State. But he also has gotten his hands on several more balls in pass coverage that he nearly hauled in.

"In practice, I intercept every single pass that comes my way," Hungalu says. "I should have had five or six more this season. That kills me."

Hungalu started part-time as a sophomore and was a full-time starter last season, but has come into his own this fall as one of the Pac-12's premier defenders.

"He has a lot of natural gifts," Clune says. "He's a big guy, he's quick, he has all the physical tools. His ability to read and diagnose the play and then get to where he's supposed to get this season has been exceptional."

Former head coach Gary Andersen always praised Hungalu's study of video.

"I'm always watching film," Hungalu says. "I look for schemes, for tendencies of the players. That's the best way to beat opponents. We're all similar from a physical standpoint, but preparation can give you an edge. I try to take advantage of that."

Hungalu's practice habits are exemplary, too.

"I try to be the hardest worker on the team," he says. "That's helped put me in the spot I'm in right now. Being one of our few seniors, it's my job to be a leader. I want to be in the right spot and show the younger guys by example how it's supposed to work, every single play.

"This is a game I love. I'm not here to lose. I'm here to try to do the best I can. I want to get the guys around me to do the best they can, too."

Hungalu has played through injury this season, too, including a thigh contusion and a sore shoulder that has bothered him since last season.

"I've done a good job rehabbing and strengthening it," he says."Sometimes it gets a little achy during a game, but it's been feeling good enough to play."

Hungalu is still learning how a team captain must handle himself away from the field. He was involved in an incident in the wee hours on Oct. 29, in which he got into a verbal altercation with an individual and was cited by Corvallis police for "violent conduct." Hungalu and some friends had stopped by Qdoba for some food and had gotten in just before the restaurant closed. Others arrived after closing time and wanted in. The manager enlisted Hungalu's help to get the other group to leave.

The discussion became heated enough that law enforcement arrived on the scene, citing both Hungalu and another individual. Since no punches were thrown, there were no arrests.

"It could have come to blows by the words they were saying, but I knew better," Hungalu says. "I knew I had to get away from the situation."

Hall chose not to suspend Hungalu, but gave him a lecture about priorities as a student-athlete.

"Coach Hall wants me to learn from that," Hungalu says. "What could have helped was for me not to be there at 3 a.m. in the first place. I shouldn't have been out that late. I get it."

As a player, Hungalu reminds some of former all-Pac-10 middle linebacker Trent Bray, and it's no coincidence that Bray was Hungalu's position coach his first two years at Oregon State.

"I learned a ton from Coach Bray," Hungalu says. "He taught me everything. He demanded you to do things right."

Hungalu has become an all-conference-caliber player under the tutelage of his current linebackers coach, Chad Kauha'aha'a.

"Coach Chad is another great coach," Hungalu says. "He also demands perfection."

Hungalu is still unsure what to think about the resignation of Andersen after a 38-10 loss at Southern Cal.

"It's an odd situation we're put in," Hungalu says. "It's tough on the guys. It just sucks, honestly, for the players, to be put in this kind of position."

After a 36-33 loss to Colorado the following Saturday, Hungalu was asked by a reporter if he had thought about Andersen during the game.

"No, not today," Hungalu responded. "Not at all."

It sounded as if he were upset his former coach, but he says that's not the case.

"The question was if I had thought about him during the game, which I hadn't, because I was focusing on the game," Hungalu says. "The situation with 'Coach A' wasn't on my mind. I was playing football."

Hungalu and Andersen have communicated several times since then via text, and the player says he still loves the coach.

"But I haven't asked him about his situation, and I'm still totally confused in the way that whole situation happened," Hungalu says. "I don't understand him walking away, but I'm not going to let it get to my head. I'm just trying to play football."

Hungalu entered the season expecting the Beavers to contend for a bowl game.

"Nobody thought it would go like this," he says. "But that's how life is. There are times when you end up in situations you don't want to be. Now it's about how we're going to react, how we're going to keep moving on. We're still fighting. Everybody still wants to play."

Hungalu will graduate with a 2.8 GPA in sociology this term. He hopes an NFL career is ahead of him. After that, he'd like to coach football.

And he'd like Beaver Nation to know he has enjoyed the ride.

"I owe Oregon State everything," he says. "They were my only scholarship offer out of high school. They gave me an opportunity nobody else did.

"I've heard so many nice things from the fans about what I've done for this program. I feel like they've always been on my side. I'm trying to give back as much as I can. I'm trying to finish off these last three games the best way I can, not only for the school but for the people who support us."

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@kerryeggers

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