clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Pack notes: Carson Strong declares for NFL Draft, will skip bowl game; Vai Taua named assistant head coach

NCAA Football: Nevada at San Diego State Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

After a historic collegiate career, Nevada quarterback Carson Strong has officially declared for the 2022 NFL Draft and will skip Nevada’s bowl game, he announced Tuesday on “The Carson Strong Show,’ an exclusive on Nevada Sports Net.

Strong, a two-time Mountain West offensive player of the year winner, said the decision was tough, but the chaos surrounding program over the last several days made it the best decision necessary for him.

“Unfortunately, my last game at Nevada has been played,” Strong said in the sit-down interview with Chris Murray of Nevada Sports Net. “That’s kind of a tough pill to swallow. As much as I would love to go out there and win a ballgame with my teammates, it’s just not in the best interest for me. I’m going to be declaring for the NFL draft and I’m really excited to get started with the people that I got working with me and I’m excited for the future.”

Strong set Nevada’s single-season touchdown record (36) — which was held for nearly three decades, set by Chris Vargas (34) in 1993 — while finishing second in program history with 4,175 passing yards. Both marks topped the Mountain West. He also set a conference-high in completion percentage (70.0), while finishing second in passer rating (156.7) and third in yards per attempt (8.0).

“I don’t think I have much left to prove to myself or anyone in college,” he said. “And I don’t know how much better I can get playing another year of college. It’d be a lot of fun. I think I could probably dominate somewhere and just have a blast playing college football again. But it’s definitely time for me to move on and I’m ready for the challenge.”

Strong, who received plenty of well-deserved preseason NFL Draft hype, said it’s a surreal feeling to finally get a chance to play in the NFL. Zack Patraw of Sports Illustrated recently had Strong as the first player selected in the second-round to the Detroit Lions, while Pro Football Network’s Ian Cummings has Strong going No. 49 to the Denver Broncos.

“When I was a freshman or a kid, even if you would have told me I’d be the last pick in the seventh round or an undrafted free agent that made a team, I’d be totally stoked. So the fact that I’m even being considered to get drafted as high as I am, it’s a blessing and I got to make the most of this opportunity.

“I have honestly no idea. I can be a first round pick or a seventh round pick or undrafted,” he said when asked about where he thought he might get drafted. “The [NFL Draft] is so unpredictable. You never know who’s going to go where, who’s going to rise, who’s going to fall.”

Strong mentioned that he would be signing with the “Athletes First” sports agency, based in Laguna Hills, Calif., with agent Ryan Williams. He also noted that he will be working with former NFL quarterback Jordan Palmer alongside Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder and Cal quarterback Chase Garbers.

“The first time I worked with [Palmer] was in South Tahoe,” Strong said. “He just reached out to me and was like, ‘Hey, I’m having a camp. I heard about you and I want you to come down.’ And that was right before the (2020) COVID-season, so right before I kind of blew up a little bit, so he didn’t know too much about me. He liked what he saw at the camp, he followed me, he watched the season and he’s like, ‘Hey, this kid can sling it.’ He’s been with me since then.

“[Palmer]’s such a knowledgeable guy,” Strong said. “He knows so much about how the league works, different guys and the sport so there’s tons of information that he gives me that is super valuable.”

It’s no secret that Strong’s right knee, which he underwent surgery on last offseason, will be the biggest talking point throughout in the pre-draft evaluation process.

“My biggest question mark is obviously my knee and my health. So my big focus is going to getting as healthy as I can. And I feel great. Two weeks off of football has done a lot of good; my knee has no swelling, no soreness, no pain. I feel like I’m 17 again.”

Strong recently met with his surgeon to get an MRI and the MRI looked “great.”

“My doctor is very confident that I’m going to be very good for a long time and my knees are going to be able to hold up. And so I’m confident in that as well. I just go to show everyone else that.”

The 6-foot-4 signal caller became the fourth quarterback and the fifth player overall in conference history to win back-to-back Mountain West offensive player of the year award. Strong finishes off his collegiate career with 852 completions (2nd in program history) 9,368 yards (4th) and 74 touchdowns (3rd).

His nine 300-yard outings are the most for a Pack quarterback in a single season since Vargas had nine in 1993, tying the most in Wolf Pack history. Strong’s recorded 17 career 300-yard performances in 31 career starts — going 12-5 in such game. Though he never was able to win a Mountain West championship with Nevada, Strong finished 20-11 as a starter in his career while leading them to three straight bowl appearances.

“If you’d ask me that question before the season started, I would’ve said a winner,” Strong said, when asked about what he hopes Nevada fans remember him by. “With Nevada fans, I would want them to think ‘Carson Strong was a winner. He brought us a (Mountain West) Championship. We went undefeated.’ I wish that was the case. But I hope Nevada fans just know that I gave everything I got. We didn’t win every game. We came up short a few times. San Diego State game is always going to stick with me. But I gave everything I got. I tried by best.”

Strong won’t have to travel far from Northern Nevada for the upcoming 2022 NFL Draft, which is scheduled on April 28-30, 2022, in Las Vegas, Nev.

Nevada interim head coach Vai Taua, who’s replacing Jay Norvell in the Quick Lane Bowl on Dec. 27 after Norvell darted to in-conference foe Colorado State, will officially be on the Wolf Pack staff following the 2021 season.

Taua, a former Nevada running back (2007-10) who’s been apart of the program for the last five seasons, was named as the Associate Head Coach on recently-hired Ken Wilson’s staff, it was announced Tuesday.

“I could not be more excited to have a such an outstanding person in coach Vai Taua, a true Nevada guy, continuing to help grow a championship culture here at Nevada,” coach Wilson said via press release. ”Not only was coach Taua a great competitor as a player, but also he has become one of the best and hardest working coach and recruiters in the country.”

Taua was Nevada’s special teams analyst in 2017 and the assistant director to player personnel and recruiting in 2018 before spending the last three years as the team’s running backs coach.

He is a member of the Wolf Pack Hall of Fame and is regarded as one the most successful running backs in program history. He ranked in the top-5 in program history in rushing yards (4,588; 2nd), rushing touchdowns (45; 4th) and total touchdowns (53; 4th) as a three-time All-WAC honoree.

Now, he will be tasked with leading the Wolf Pack, without Strong and tight end Cole Turner (and potentially some others that are currently in the transfer portal), in the Quick Lane Bowl against Western Michigan on Dec. 27 at 8:00 a.m. PST on ESPN.

“I’m excited to be able to stay home with the Pack and to be able to work with coach Wilson,” Taua said. “We’re ready to take the next step and win some championships. Right now, I’m motivated to go win a bowl ring.”