Hungalu, Beavers defense remain motivated
If there is anybody within the Oregon State program who has given up on the season, Manase Hungalu is unaware of it.
"Not at all," says the Beavers' senior linebacker and co-captain. "The guys on our defense, at least, are fired up. We see how close we are to being good. It's motivational.
"The season is not over. We have a bunch more games left to go. A bowl game is still our goal. It's making us more hungry."
Hungalu is not in denial. He understands the enormous challenge facing the Beavers (1-4 overall, 0-2 in Pac-12 play) as they visit the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum Saturday for a 1 p.m. date with 14th-ranked Southern Cal (4-1, 2-1).
"They have a bunch of athletes on that team," Hungalu says. "Sam Darnold is a super good quarterback — maybe the best we'll face athletic-wise. They have a lot of playmakers on their offense. (On defense) We're going to have to play 11-man football.
"But our defense is getting better. We didn't finish against Washington (in a 42-7 loss), but that was the least amount of points they've scored in a first half (seven) in two years. We'e getting better. We have a chance to stand toe-to-toe with the Trojans."
It's exactly the kind of attitude a coach would want in his best player. And so far this season, Hungalu has been the Beavers' best defender.
The 6-1, 235-pound inside 'backer leads Oregon State with 40 tackles, including 3 1/2 for loss and 1 1/2 sacks, the latter against the Huskies' Jake Browning.
"Manase has played well, but he can play better," says Chad Kauha'aha'a, who coaches the defensive line and outside 'backers. "He has missed some tackles. He knows that.
"But he has done an outstanding job as a leader, holding our (defensive) troops together through some tough times. He has been a good example to the young guys, to keep fighting, keep working and not worry about what's going on around us. His leadership has been a huge positive in a bad situation."
Hungalu's self-evaluation is similar.
"I feel pretty good about the way I've played," he says. "It could be better, but it's on a good path. I'm trying to build on top of what I did last year.
"We're in a situation where we need my leadership with this team. We have a lot of young guys on the defense. It's my duty as a senior and captain to lead our young defense the right way."
Hungalu, a native of Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, chose Oregon State over Hawaii out of high school.
"They were a better program than Hawaii at the time, they had a lot of kids from Hawaii on the team, and it was better for me to get away from home and focus on football and school," he says. "It was the best fit for me.
"One of the main reasons I came here was (former head coach Mike) Riley. I liked Coach Riley's coaching style, and he was a good person, a guy you could go into his office and talk to him about anything. He was always there for you."
Hungalu never saw the field under Riley, though. He redshirted as a freshman and didn't play a down as a redshirt freshman while trimming his body of baby fat from the 245 pounds he carried when he arrived on campus. Hungalu became a part-time starter as a sophomore and then came into his own as a junior last season, ranking second on the squad in tackles while making three fumble recoveries.
The past two seasons, Hungalu has proved to be a playmaker on defense. Against UCLA in 2016, he scored on a 40-yard return of a fumble and also returned an interception 37 yards. This season, he scored on a 21-yard interception return in a 35-32 victory over Portland State.
"Manase is a good student of the game," Kauha'aha'a says. "He spends a lot of time watching video, studying opponents. He can recognize formations. He's always calling out stuff. That's what puts him in spots to make plays.
"He is an instinctive player. That's why he has so many tackles. He knows where to be. He's such a weapon for us in (an opponent's) passing game. He's always around the ball in coverage with his anticipation of where the quarterback is throwing the ball."
Kauha'aha'a admires Hungalu for an additional reason.
"He's tough," Kauha'aha'a says. "He has played through injuries the past two years and hasn't complained a bit. He'll hobble back and get back on the field whenever the training staff allows. That says a lot about him as a person."
Kauha'aha'a has no doubts about the latter quality.
"Manase has matured a lot from the time we got here as a staff (2015) to now," he says. "He's the typical kid from Hawaii — I can say that, because I was one of them — you really have to get on in the beginning, show him some tough love.
"I'm proud of the way he has matured not only as a player but as a person. His care factor for this team is unbelievable. He's not pouting about things. He's leading and doing what he can to make it better."
Hungalu says he wants to make the most out of the rest of the season.
"This isn't what we planned to start the season," he says, "but this is a close team. We have a pretty good bond going right now. When I was here with Coach Riley, little individual groups of people were formed. With this team, everybody is bonded together and has strong friendships, which is a good thing. It's going to help us get to where we want to be."