With injuries ravaging an already thin defensive line, the Arizona Wildcats turned to walk-on Abraham Maiava in Saturday’s loss to Houston.
The redshirt junior played roughly 30 snaps and recorded three tackles, admitting it was a nerve-wracking experience. After all, it was his first game action since 2016 when he was playing junior college ball at New Mexico Military Institute in Roswell.
“I was nervous,” he said. “It was my first game in a long time, especially on a big stage. But the guys helped me get through it. They said, ‘play your first snap and the nerves will go away.’ Plus our motto for that game was ‘do your job’ and that’s what I decided to do: just do my job.”
Maiava’s job is to rush the passer, an area the Wildcats could desperately use some help. Through two games, they have not recorded any sacks.
But Maiava has another job too, and it has nothing to do with football. When the 300-pound Samoan is not on the football field or in the classroom working toward his Sociology degree, he works at Tucson International Airport where he handles baggage and loads and unloads planes.
“Ramp stuff,” he described it.
Maiava has worked at the airport for over a year now. Balancing that with football and school can be challenging.
“Luckily, the schedule for the airport is flexible, so I usually work Friday, Saturday, Sunday over at the airport and then I come to school and go to practice during the weekdays,” Maiava said, adding that he usually works the closing shifts. “But my sister actually got a job there too, so she’s been helping me out a lot too by picking up my shifts.”
Maiava first started working at the airport in 2017 after he tore his ACL in his final game at New Mexico Military Institute. The injury forced him to take a year off from football and he moved to Tucson because it is where his family has lived ever since his brother, Lene, played offensive line at the UA from 2011-2015.
“I was just getting my mind right, getting myself together and figuring out what I want to do from there,” the younger Maiava said.
Maiava admits he didn’t have much of a plan — “I was kinda lost,” he said — but one day he got a call from UA graduate assistant Davy Gnodle, who encouraged Maiava to give football another go.
“He talked to me, called me talking about the tryouts and all that, so once I started school, he wanted me to pick up a package for the walk-on tryouts,” Maiava said, “and thank God I made it.”
Maiava was an offensive lineman in junior college, but decided to give defense a try at Arizona since new UA defensive line coach Iona Uiagalelei is Samoan, too.
“I just wanted to see if I could make a change and see what goes on from there,” Maiava said. “That happened real quick and I was able to adjust myself to it real quick.”
As someone who grew up in American Samoa where all he had was family, faith and a dream to leave the island and create a better life, Maiava describes his current situation — as hectic as it can be — as a “blessing.”
Now he hopes to earn a scholarship.
“I think it’s motivation for all the walk-ons, especially myself having to still work at the airport and doing this, but I just thank God for the strength he’s giving me every single day to come here for school and take advantage of the opportunity I have,” Maiava said.