SAN FRANCISCO — Six long years ago, BYU defensive lineman Eathyn Manumaleuna made one of the most memorable, and dramatic, plays in Cougar bowl history.
He was a freshman then, and it was his first bowl game. BYU led UCLA, 17-16, in the Las Vegas Bowl when the underdog Bruins lined up for the potential game-winning field goal on the last play of the game. Manumaleuna jumped and stuck his big hand up in the air as the kick went airborne.
“I felt it on my fingertips,” Manumaleuna remembered. “I seriously didn’t think (the kick) wasn’t going to go in. The angle from my spot looked like it was going to go in. When it fell short, I tried to take it all in. It felt great. A great memory.”
Manumaleuna’s big block preserved a Cougar win and secured an 11-2 season.
Now, he’s a senior, and heading into his final bowl game — and last collegiate game — against Washington Friday (7:30 p.m. MST, ESPN) in the Fight Hunger Bowl.
“This game is hitting me harder than the last home game,” Manumaleuna said. “I’m looking forward to it. It’s also a bittersweet feeling for me.”
Like UCLA in 2007, Washington has an interim coach. The Bruins’ interim coach was DeWayne Walker, a former BYU assistant. The Huskies’ interim coach is Marques Tuiasosopo, who is filling in for Steve Sarkisian — a former BYU quarterback — who is now USC's new coach.
Manumaleuna has seen, and experienced, a lot during his time at BYU.
“I’ll never forget (Manumaleuna) blocking that kick against UCLA, when they had an interim coach,” said Cougar coach Bronco Mendenhall. “The rest of it blurs. It would be nice for him to have signature play like that in this game, then the other, like, 10 years he’s been here since then kind of runs together.”
“It seems like about 10 years,” Manumaleuna said. “It feels like it. It’s coming to an end.”
To make things even more interesting, Manumaleuna pointed out a connection between his family and the Tuiasosopo family.
“My dad and his dad are really good friends,” Manumaleuna said. “They grew up together. I don’t think I’ve met Marques, but I feel like I know his family a little bit.”
“We know the Manumaleunas very well,” Tuiasosopo said. “(Their fathers) grew up together in Los Angeles area. They did a Samoan athletes-in-action deal. They did camps together. It's a great relationship."
After that famous blocked kick against UCLA, Manumaleuna left the program for two years to serve a mission. When he returned, the first opponent he faced in the 2010 season-opener was none other than Washington.
In the game’s waning moments — with the Huskies driving into BYU territory — a pass by Washington quarterback Jake Locker was blocked by Manumaleuna in unusual fashion.
“It hit me in the helmet. I wasn’t expecting that,” he recalled. “But I’m glad it happened. We were able to pull a ‘W’ against them. They were a good team and they’re a good team this year. That was a tough game and it came down to the last drive. We got lucky at the end. It’s a good memory, also.”
The Cougars won that game, 23-17.
Manumaleuna has plenty of good memories of his BYU career, particularly his freshman year.
“It was probably the funnest season of my career, playing with guys like Bryan Kehl, Max Hall and Austin Collie,” Manumaleuna said. “There was nothing like it. Giving the seniors a win in their final game was memorable, too. They went out on a win. I still remember it as if it was this past season. It was a great season, especially for a freshman like me.”
Last year, Manumaleuna suffered a knee injury at Boise State. He rehabbed the knee, and the NCAA granted him one more year of eligibility, for which he has been grateful.
"This season has been a blessing to me," he said.
Manumaleuna wants nothing more than to conclude his Cougar career with a victory.
“This is my last game here for BYU,” he said. “I want to treat it as such.”
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