Eathyn Manumaleuna’s BYU football career is a story best told through various body parts.
There’s the right hand that blocked UCLA’s field-goal try, saving a victory in a bowl game six years ago.
There’s the forehead — yes, forehead — that deflected a fourth-down pass, preserving a win in his next game, the last time the Cougars met Washington.
There’s the left knee that was injured last year, creating the defensive line vacancy that teammate Ziggy Ansah filled on his way to becoming the No. 5 pick in the NFL draft.
Manumaleuna made his own impact this season. Having received a medical hardship waiver from the NCAA, the defensive tackle responded with a solid senior year that will end in Friday’s Fight Hunger Bowl vs. Washington in San Francisco.
The extra season “is a blessing,” Manumaleuna said, “and I’ve tried to see it that way every day.”
A seven-year career is not unusual at BYU, factoring in a redshirt season and a church mission. Neither are six-syllable last names, with the Cougars’ Polynesian influence. What is uncommon is Manumaleuna’s level of contribution from the beginning to the end. He started for the Cougars as a freshman and came through with the block on the last play of the Las Vegas Bowl as BYU beat UCLA 17-16. That was in December 2007, when Bronco Mendenhall was a third-year coach, Max Hall and Austin Collie were sophomores and current Cougar star Jamaal Williams was in eighth grade.
When that ball brushed his fingertips and floated toward the goalposts, Manumaleuna feared the 28-yard kick still would be successful. But the ball fluttered to the ground in the end zone, and BYU escaped.
Following his mission to Oklahoma City, Manumaleuna returned to face Washington in the 2010 season opener in Provo. Trailing 23-17, the Huskies drove inside the BYU 30-yard line before Jake Locker’s last pass struck a leaping — that’s the lineman’s version — Manumaleuna in the helmet and fell incomplete.
“I wasn’t expecting it,” he said recently, “but I’m glad it happened.”
That’s the night when former BYU quarterbacks Riley Nelson and Jake Heaps alternated on each series. Skip ahead to this week, and Manumaleuna will conclude his long, memorable career against Washington. He was scheduled to move on last December, but his injury at Boise State in the fourth game — in another milestone, BYU quarterback Taysom Hill’s first significant action — ended his season and ultimately extended his career.
That injury created an opportunity for Ansah, who made himself noticed as a starter in the remaining eight games and eventually received an $18.6 million contract from the Detroit Lions. So Manumaleuna deserves a percentage of that money, right?
“Some gas money, at least,” he said, smiling at the memory of giving rides around campus to his former teammate.
Manumaleuna is likely to be a late-round draft pick in April after coming back from his injury and being productive this season with 47 tackles, including seven tackles for loss. He also deflected a pass and blocked a kick, evoking memories of those game-saving plays from the past.
Approaching the school-record 56th and final appearance for Manumaleuna in a BYU uniform, Mendenhall considers the block against UCLA in ’07 as a bookend moment in the lineman’s career.
“It’d be nice,” Mendenhall said, “for him to have a signature play like that in this game.”