The thing that makes little to no sense now, looking at Netane Muti at 6-foot-3 and 310 pounds, is that he did not have any scholarship offers during his senior season in high school, which could qualify as a whiff for any football coach who touched down in Hawaii during the fall of 2015 looking for offensive line recruits.
When that offer did come, on signing day, Muti jumped at it. He signed a national letter of intent with Hawaii.
But on Saturday when Fresno State plays the Rainbow Warriors at Aloha Stadium, Muti will not be with the home team. Instead, he will be in the Bulldogs’ starting lineup at left guard, a fixture now and as a redshirt freshman for years to come; just one of those sometimes wicked twists in the recruiting game.
Long before Muti had received that scholarship offer from the Rainbow Warriors, he had filled out an application to Hawaii with designs on joining the football team as a walk-on.
Then came the scholarship offer, and everything was good until it wasn’t.
“I got a letter after signing day that I didn’t get accepted because I applied as a regular student,” Muti said.
The national letter of intent binding Muti to Hawaii became null and void, and though the Rainbow Warriors staff tried to recruit him again, this time around it had competition.
Jimmy Morimoto, who was Fresno State’s director of player personnel then (and coincidentally now is director of football operations at Hawaii), made that first call. Not many more were needed.
“My mom took that as a sign from God that he doesn’t want me” to play at Hawaii, Muti said. “Fresno State came in and offered me and I got here.
“We took it as a they closed a door on us and Fresno State came in and just I took it.”
I’m pretty sure he’s going to break every offensive line record in there.
Fresno State center Aaron Mitchell on left guard Netane Muti’s work in the weight room
Coach Jeff Tedford, who was hired the following year and had not heard that story, just smiled.
“Well,” he said, “it’s nice to have him here.”
Muti didn’t make it to the field his first season, suffering an Achilles’ tendon injury late in the Bulldogs’ summer strength and conditioning program.
But even then he was making teammates, coaches and staff take notice of his raw physical skills.
“We all knew he was strong, knew he was athletic, knew he was fast, but we were out there and he’s just a freshman, and I’d tell him, ‘Hey, go hop in, play some right guard, play some left guard,” said Aaron Mitchell, the Bulldogs’ senior center and a team captain.
“This is just in the summer one-on-ones and, man, I’ve never seen someone stone D-linemen like that, not in a long time. You see it from an older guy who knows the drill, knows, ‘OK, I’ve been going against these D-linemen all summer, I know their moves.’ This is his first time stepping in there and any time you put any freshman in they’re a little timid, but he just got after it.”
Being sidelined because of the injury just meant Muti had time to get stronger, get bigger, grow up and mature. And he still is just 18 years old.
Every teammate, it seems, has a story about his strength or work in the weight room, throwing around big numbers on the bench, doing front or back squats.
“I’m pretty sure he’s going to break every offensive line record in there,” Mitchell said.
Linebacker George Helmuth has one, only in it Muti is throwing around only 220 pounds.
That would be Helmuth.
“I was at the bad end of it,” he said. “It was run drill in fall camp and I was blitzing the ‘B’ gap. He was engaged and came off that block, gave me a punch and launched me like five yards.
“If you see it on tape you see me just leave. I go flying right out of the picture.”
Muti went into and came out of fall camp with the Bulldogs’ No. 1 line, which has been a key piece in a turnaround that has them 6-3, bowl eligible and in control of their own destiny with a chance to play in the Mountain West championship game.
He … gave me a punch and launched me like five yards. If you see it on tape you see me just leave. I go flying right out of the picture.
Fresno State linebacker George Helmuth on getting blocked in practice by Netane Muti
Fresno State is rushing for 4.5 yards per play, after ranking last in the conference last season at 3.2. It is allowing only 3.2 tackles for loss per game, and a year ago it was 7.2. It has allowed only six sacks, down considerably from 31 last season.
“I know he can do all the freaky physical stuff. I tell my guys all the time if they think they’re the only guy in the country that’s going to the NFL because they can do freaky NFL stuff, they’re wrong,” offensive line coach Ryan Grubb said.
“He has gotten much, much better, and I credit the guys as much as anything. I think our system and the way we do some things obviously helps, but they’ve done a good job of making sure they’re holding guys accountable.”
Mitchell said Muti has been the key piece, sliding in next to left tackle Christian Cronk and playing opposite right guard Micah St. Andrew and tackle David Patterson.
“He really glued this group together,” Mitchell said.
Tedford said, “I think he has great potential. If he continues to grow and understands the game and with experience and things like that, his knowledge, he’s just going to continue to get better because he has all the physical traits to be a great one.”
For now, Muti is only about Saturday and Hawaii:
“I am kind of excited for this game. My mom said there are going to be a lot of people there for me. She was telling me to get tickets for everybody over there.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
FRESNO STATE AT HAWAII
- Saturday: 8 p.m. PST at Aloha Stadium (50,000) in Honolulu
- Records: Bulldogs 6-3, 4-1 Mountain West; Rainbow Warriors 3-6, 1-5
- TV/radio: KSEE24/KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600)
- Of note: The Rainbow Warriors lost at UNLV on Saturday 31-23, the sixth time in seven games they have been held to 23 points or fewer. In the seventh game, they beat San Jose State 37-26. Hawaii went into that game ranked 10th in the Mountain West Conference in scoring defense, allowing 34.6 points per game, and has struggled mostly against the pass. Opponents had put up an efficiency rating of 172.32, last in the conference and 128th of 130 in the nation. UNLV passed for 281 yards, a season-high, in the victory over the Rainbow Warriors. And the Rebels are not exactly a strong passing team. In a loss to Utah State, they attempted 30 passes and completed only 13 for 85 yards. Hawaii quarterback Dru Brown completed 24 of 47 passes for 269 yards and one touchdown at UNLV, and ranks second in the conference in passing at 249.4 yards per game.