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Tihada continues his football climb at UNLV

Lahainaluna graduate Joshua Tihada runs a drill at UNLV football practice last fall. UNLV Athletic Department / Lucas Peltier photos

Since he was a toddler following his father around the field at Lahainaluna High School, Joshua Tihada has been about building himself on the football field.

After arguably the most successful individual offensive career that the Maui Interscholastic League has ever seen, most football things haven’t changed for Tihada at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas.

Tihada, who is preparing for his second season in college football, has clearly put his unparalleled prep career in the rear-view mirror in Sin City. Like he did as a young Luna, he is climbing the ladder to playing time.

A preferred walk-on, he dressed for three games in 2020, played special teams in a 30-21 loss to Hawaii in the final game played in Aloha Stadium, and learned week by week in a shortened, 0-6 COVID-19-burdened season as a scout team running back.

“Honestly, my whole freshman year was a great experience, learning from new guys, the culture, it was great,” Tihada said. “Experiencing new coaches and stuff and their input. It was a great season for me overall, a lot of experience, learning from all positions, even special teams, too. Learning a lot of things.

Joshua Tihada takes a handoff from QB Cameron Friel during practice

“So it was a great year overall. School went great, it was phenomenal. Offseason went great, just learning and being a part of that culture. It was perfect.”

Currently he is busy with conditioning in Las Vegas after about a month home in two stints this spring. Fall camp opens Aug. 4.

The seemingly always-smiling Tihada even shrugged off the team having to deal with the pandemic, which led to two games being canceled in 2020 and his entire freshman academic year being all online.

Tihada said he is fully vaccinated — “I was actually one of the first on our team to get vaccinated,” he said — as are the majority of his teammates.

“It was more of just a liability thing, you know, six feet apart, testing every week, stuff like that, regular stuff,” Tihada said of the protocols he had to deal with due to COVID. “Three tests a week, just being able to keep each other safe. It was definitely different, but I think we all as a team and as a whole program, we adapted around it.

“To me, it was not as bad as I think everybody expected it to be.”

It was 13 months prior to the UNLV-Hawaii game in Aloha Stadium that Tihada ran for a state tournament-record 310 yards in a 21-10 win over Kapaa that wrapped up the Lunas’ fourth straight Division II state title in 2019 at the now-condemned stadium.

Tihada doesn’t pay attention to the fact that he is the all-time leading rusher in MIL history, the state tournament record holder with 19 touchdowns, The Maui News MIL Boy Athlete of the Year and Hawaii Hall of Honor recipient in 2019-20.

Now, he is fully focused on college football and has caught the eye and respect of veteran college coach Chad Kauhaahaa, the UNLV defensive line coach and former Baldwin standout and head coach.

“You know with Josh Tihada, he’s a well-known person on the team,” Kauhaahaa said in an interview last month. “I mean, if you talk to any coach about Josh Tihada, our coaching staff will light up because the young man is such an extremely hard worker, a fierce competitor who doesn’t like to lose.”

Kauhaahaa knew of Tihada’s prowess in the MIL and helped convince UNLV head coach Marcus Arroyo to extend a preferred walk-on slot to his fellow Mauian.

“I followed Josh, but I didn’t know too much about him — when (Lahainaluna co-head coach) Dean Rickard gave me a call, I value Dean’s word,” Kauhaahaa said. “So it was a no-brainer for me. I went to go watch Josh’s film and I said, ‘Geez, this kid’s a bowling ball, he’s a wrecking machine. He’s quick, he’s shifty, he’s powerful.’

“I spoke to Coach Arroyo, I spoke to the running back coach. That running back position is usually hard to get walk-ons for, but I kind of pounded the table for Josh and it’s worked out.”

Tihada worked hard to move to the top of the scout team running back list and give the No. 1 defense solid looks at what they would be facing each week.

“Being able to play with the scout team was an honor because I get to give the first team defense good looks and upgrade the competition, trying to get my team better with the best I can do,” Tihada said. “At the end of the day, I just want to get my team better doing anything I can. Whatever it takes, if you want me to play wideout or fly (slot) or anything, I will be out there. I just want to contribute.

“It was great for me. I got to learn a lot of new things, experience a lot of new things. It was good.”

He also got used to film study as the scout team running back and learned a lot more through that work, too.

“Each week we would talk about developing the game plan as the scout team, whatever they do, how they do certain things, tendencies they show when they get lined up, so it was great,” Tihada said. “I learned a lot more about football, about the IQ of football. It was just great.”

He feels that he has also added strength to his 5-foot-10, 185-pound frame and can’t wait for the season that begins against Eastern Washington on Sept. 2.

“I’m definitely stronger than a year ago,” Tihada said, noting that his bench press has reached 275 pounds. “I definitely got a lot stronger in all aspects of my lifting.”

Tihada could face former MIL opponents Hanisi Lotulelei of San Diego State on Nov. 20 and Tristan Nichols of Nevada on Oct. 29.

“I’m really looking forward to the season, you know, after all that hard work, see all that training hopefully pay off,” Tihada said. “Yeah, I’m excited.”

* Robert Collias is at rcollias @mauinews.com.

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