Manase Tonga made a nice impression this past weekend at the Oakland Raiders mini-camp. In fact, according to a San Francisco Chronicle report earlier this week, the former BYU Cougar looks to have a good shot at not only making the team, but starting at fullback for Al Davis’ squad.
“I definitely got the impression that the spot is wide open,” Manase told Deep Shades of Blue. “That was the thought of the two veterans that were at the camp as well.”
Tonga, a rookie free agent, may have the upper hand on both veterans Luke Lawton and Marcel Reese. Lawton is currently serving a suspension for violating the NFL’s drug policy, while Reese is a converted wide receiver who saw action in just two games last season. Another veteran fullback prospect, Oren O’Neal, was recently released by the Raiders. Chase Moline, another rookie free agent fullback from UCLA, was also in Oakland’s camp last week.
Tonga says that it was a bit surreal during the first day of camp as he donned the Raider uniform for the first time.
“The first day I was getting taped up next to Darren McFadden, then later on I was out there catching passes from Jason Campbell. After the first day though it was just playing football, I wasn’t really paying attention to who was out there on the field with me. I was really impressed with the players at camp, how humble they were and how ready they were to go to work. It kind of shocked me. I was expecting to see a lot of ego but it wasn’t like that at all.”
Prior to the draft last month, Oakland was one of the teams that showed interest in Manase, who grew up in nearby San Mateo and starred at Aragon High School.
“So far it’s worked out,” Tonga said. “It’s a good place, a good situation and it’s close to home. Nothing is guaranteed at this point though. I still have to work for it.”
Tonga said he is excited that his dream of playing in the NFL is within reach, and that he is thankful for the chance to wear the silver and black colors of the one of the most storied franchises in sports. “It’s just an honor. I’m privileged to put on the colors of some of the greatest players to play to the game. This organization has given me the opportunity to live out my dream. It’s just an honor.”
As Tonga arrived at camp he was able to reconnect with a couple of friends, a fact that made last weekend a little easier for the rookie. Former Cougars David Nixon and Todd Watkins are both Raiders, and gave Manase some insight and advise about how to make it in the NFL. “It was good to get reacquainted with both David and Todd and spend some time with them. They showed me the ropes and stressed that it’s a business now. They told me to approach it with a business mindset, to work hard and give the coaches a reason to keep me around and not cut me.”
Tonga is continuing to work out and work on aspects of his game that Raider coaches want to see him develop further. His quest to make the NFL resumes May 18 at the next Raider mini-camp.