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Hungalu turns into leader for Beavers

CORVALLIS — Manase Hungalu learned from last year’s 2-10 finish that everything he did on and off the field wasn’t good enough.

He needed to continue to grow and mature as a football player and person, just as he did three years ago when he came to the Oregon State campus as a true freshman from Hawaii’s Big Island.

“For this young team coming in, I knew somebody needed to step up and be that leader just like Lefo,” Hungalu said of his friend and fellow inside linebacker Caleb Saulo. “I think I just put it upon myself and made myself become a leader.”

Hungalu, a junior in eligibility, got what he describes as a “wake-up call” when he arrived in 2013.

He wasn’t ready for the rigors of being a Division I major college football player and the coaches’ expectations that went along with it.

He spent most of his first two seasons — primarily on the Beavers’ scout teams with no playing time — getting ready for that opportunity.

With the offseason transfer to Ole Miss of senior-to-be Rommel Mageo, a nine-game starter in 2015, there was a clear opening to move up the depth chart.

Hungalu took advantage and enters the season on top of the chart at an inside linebacker spot opposite Saulo, a senior. Hungalu has developed into a solid communicator with strong instincts, both keys to playing his position.

“He’s really come along, and there’s some things he does better than anybody I’ve coached. There’s certain things that he sees quickly that is great stuff,” said defensive coordinator Kevin Clune, who joined the staff last winter.

“He’s going to come along … even as the year goes on he’ll keep maturing. I think he’ll be a real leader of this defense.”

The struggles in 2015 provided Hungalu and the rest of the program an opportunity for self-evaluation.

The decision was made that it was time to be a different team.

“Since the last game last season, I think everybody grew up and understood that this is not just another place to play,” Hungalu said. “This is not high school football. It’s a place that winning is the only thing that we accept. I think a lot of people matured and got into the playbook, into the weight room, on the field doing drills.”

Hungalu and Saulo were offseason leaders.

When Hungalu visited OSU before arriving for good in Corvallis, he met and connected with Saulo.

Now on the field together, Hungalu found that they are similar in that they’re “just hungry to strive for success.” They communicate well, are unselfish and have each other’s back, he added.

Hungalu, at 6-foot-1 and 232 pounds, has been able to pick up aspects of the game and tweaks to the scheme faster than most teammates. He implements those and does it quickly, Clune said.

Hungalu is trying to build off a 2015 season in which he played in 11 games and started four. His 43 tackles tied for seventh on the team.

His personal highlights came primarily in nonconference games. He snagged an interception in the season opener against Weber State. He had a season-high 11 tackles against San Jose State in his first career start.

It was during spring practices that teammates regularly heard Hungalu’s voice, barking out instructions to get the defense lined up. He also tried to be someone his peers turned to off the field.

He earned his teammates respect with his energy and work ethic.

“He's definitely become a leader,” Saulo said. “A lot of guys look up to him. He’s definitely a vocal leader, a vocal guy.”

Hungalu