PULLMAN – After completing a group interview at Martin Stadium, Fred Mauigoa walked over to collect a few things before trotting off the field. He picked up a gray helmet with a crimson Cougar head and the football he’d stuffed inside of it.
After Washington State’s 15th and final spring practice, the helmet is stowed away inside a locker. It won’t be extracted by Mauigoa for another three months – not until the team returns to Pullman for fall workouts.
As for the Cougar-branded football? That’s not leaving him anytime soon.
This spring, WSU’s starting center has encountered some unexpected turbulence snapping the football. He’s been more consistent as of late and finished spring camp on a good – and accurate – note, but Mauigoa is still trying to improve, and he’s found there’s no better way to do that then by building muscle memory through constant repetition.
So, where Mauigoa goes, the football goes.
“Last spring we had some problems, too,” Mauigoa said Tuesday in Pullman. “Me and Noah (Osur-Myers), we got to take a ball home. I’ve been snapping all over the place. Snapping in the house, snapping outside, snapping in the hallways.”
Mauigoa’s first season as WSU’s full-time starting center was mostly trouble-free. In 2017, the Cougars aired it out more than anybody else in the country, attempting 713 passes – 72 more times than the second-highest team on the list, New Mexico.
That means approximately 700 times over the course of the season, Mauigoa was counted on to deliver an accurate snap to his quarterback, who in Mike Leach’s Air Raid typically sets up 5 to 6 yards behind the line of scrimmage in a shotgun formation and expects a clean ball to the chest each time.
That’s enough pressure for any center, let alone someone who’d never started a game and faced the tall task of replacing Riley Sorenson, a longtime fixture at the position.
But it was mostly smooth sailing for the 6-foot-3, 310-pound native of Tafuna, American Samoa. He didn’t botch many snaps, and center suddenly became a position of strength, rather than uncertainty, for the Cougars.
Which makes Mauigoa’s recent struggles even more perplexing.
“I think it’s just myself, forgetting how I usually snap and where I put my fingers on the ball,” Mauigoa said. “It’s all up to me, because last season I didn’t have a single problem and obviously it just came up.”
Said Leach early in spring camp: “He’s snapped 13 games worth of snaps and now all the sudden we’re chasing snaps around. So he’s got to get that right and just concentrate.”
Repetition has been helpful. Between WSU’s practices and the time Mauigoa spends honing his craft on his own, the junior estimates he fires a football between his legs 250 times a day.
“Maybe 300,” he said.
In his Pullman apartment, Mauigoa enlists help from Liam Ryan, an offensive lineman who willingly catches his roommate’s snaps whenever the two have downtime.
Refining his mechanics has also helped.
One fix he made was placing the ball farther away from his body, rather than directly underneath it. First-year offensive line coach Mason Miller detected that early on and made an immediate correction.
“The one thing that Coach Miller found out about my snapping is the ball was right below me,” Mauigoa said. “I had to put some distance, and it really helped me. Since he found out about that, he told me about it and we’ve been working on it, and it’s doing pretty good.”
He’d done it the right way last season, but fell into some bad habits at some point this spring.
“It’s the same thing. It’s just, I forgot about it,” Mauigoa said. “I forgot, really, where to put the ball, and it was all me.”
An offensive line that has to replace three starters this fall doesn’t need anything else to worry about. Mauigoa assures he won’t be one of them.
“It was good today and the past three, four practices,” he said. “That’s a good thing; we don’t need any bad snaps. Right now, everything’s together.”
Subscribe to the Cougs newsletter
Get the latest Cougs headlines delivered to your inbox as they happen.