Hamani Stevens, Mana Greig ready to punch holes for UO

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Oregon Ducks offensive linemen Hamani Stevens (second from left) and Mana Greig (right) block Virginia Cavaliers defenders in a 59-10 UO road win on Sept. 7. The front line duo has beat the odds to become starters and major players for Oregon. EUGENE — A few years ago, not many people would have predicted that Oregon’s starting offensive guards would be Mana Greig and Hamani Stevens.

Both players faced tremendous challenges, but each turned himself into a dark horse and earned a starting role.

When Stevens, from Hemet, Calif., signed with Oregon in 2008, Mike Bellotti was still the coach. After redshirting,

Stevens stepped away from the gridiron for two years, traveling to the Philippines for his Mormon mission.

“Words cannot explain how great the mission was for me,” Stevens says. “The experiences I got from that, you can’t get anywhere else. I’m grateful that I got to serve. It makes you more of a man and be accountable. That’s the kind of stuff that helps you in football.”

Stevens’ workout routine while on his mission — using a barbell with concrete blocks on each side — was widely publicized. When he got back to Eugene in 2010, though, Stevens discovered that he was badly out of football shape.

“It was quite an adjustment when I first got back,” says the 6-3, 310-pound junior. “Two years off — I had to work to get back into it. Those first two years were just a learning and a progression period.”

On top of not being in football shape, when Stevens returned to Eugene, Bellotti had been replaced by Chip Kelly.

“It caught me off guard,” Stevens says. “It was Bellotti when I left, and when I got back it was Chip Kelly’s offense and the whole program was under his name. Everything was different. It was faster, and the offense was more intense than when I left. It was an undertaking to come back and try to get into it.”

Greig grew up in Waimanalo, Hawaii.

“There’s like two traffic lights there,” Greig says. “It’s just beach and country. It’s way different than all this rainy weather in Eugene.”

Family was an important part of Greig’s upbringing, as was body art. On his right calf, Greig has a tattoo of a turtle that his cousin drew and that the two of them got together. Greig, his brother and their father all have their family crest on their right arms. The 285-pound senior also has a full sleeve tattoo on his left arm.

Despite Greig’s huge frame, his 5-11 height turned off every college recruiter, and he finished his prep career without one scholarship offer.

“I’m undersized,” Greig says. “They said I’m too short, and my arms aren’t long enough, and I’m not strong enough.”

Greig chose to come to Eugene, where he walked on to the football team.

“Oregon was doing really well, so I left the island and came up here to make a name for myself,” he says.

Both Stevens and Greig called upon their greatest strengths. For Stevens, it was his work ethic. For Greig, it was his confidence.

Stevens worked tirelessly to relearn the game. Originally a center, he switched to guard, which he discovered he liked even more.

“I’m more comfortable being at guard,” he says. “I like going and cleaning up blocks and putting a hole in the defense. I put my hand on the ground, and I can just go and hit. It’s a lot more helping out other guys, helping out the center, helping out the tackle. I’m there to secure all of the positions.”

Stevens played in eight games his redshirt freshman season, and while he did not start, he played in all but one game as a sophomore.

“Hamani is really powerful in the weight room and is still putting everything all together,” Oregon coach Mark Helfrich says.

Greig says that from the moment he got to Oregon, he never doubted himself or whether he would be able to earn a scholarship and see playing time.

“You’ve got to be confident,” Greig says. “I had a mind-set that I was going to work hard and earn a scholarship.”

Greig soon earned that scholarship. He played in seven games in 2010, six games in 2011 and eight games in 2012.

“When he punches for a block and puts his hands on you, he’ll stun you,” Stevens says of Grieg. “Mana has the strongest punch on the whole offensive line. He has a deadly punch. For all the defensive players out there, watch out. No one wants to get hit by Mana.”

Helfrich says: “Mana has always been a quiet leader. He really did a great job last year being a calming force for guys. Mana really helped guys by being a cool, confident guy.”

Stevens and Greig are good friends off the field. When they hang out, they play poker, video games and dominoes. “I’m the champ at dominoes,” Greig says.

Early this season, No. 2-ranked Oregon struggled running the ball up the middle, but Stevens and Greig have started coming on and creating the holes for the Duck ball carriers to make plays.

“They’re both doing well,” Helfrich says, as the Ducks prepare for Saturday’s 3 p.m. game at Colorado. “But they can both do better. Their best football is ahead of them.”

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