Nevada’s Jim Mastro is the maestro of running backs coaches.
Selected by his peers as this season’s National Running Backs Coach of the Year, Mastro returns to the Bay Area for the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl on Jan. 9 at AT&T Park.
The matchup will feature a clash between the nation’s top-rated team defending the run against an offense with the third-best rushing attack in the country.
“Something’s gotta’ give,” Mastro said as he and his talented stable of runners prepare for the stingy Boston College defensive front.
Mastro, 45, has just one regret from a 12-1 season with the 13th-ranked team in the nation. Mastro’s father, Jim Sr., died in February, missing his son’s finest year of coaching that included victories over Cal and Western Athletic Conference powerhouse Boise State.
Jim, Sr. was there, however, when his son was a three-sport star at Milpitas High School in the early 1980s.
“My parents went to every game, home and away, unless they couldn’t physically get there,” Mastro said. “This season has been really emotional.”
His folks were also in the stands at San Jose City College, where their son was an all-conference running back on the 1986 national championship team.
Mastro continued to pile up yardage in the backfield at Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo.
The Mustangs’ coaching staff recognized what his dad had known years earlier, that this kid had a “knack for coaching.” Cal Poly signed him up in 1989, his senior year, for $400 a month to work with the running backs.
After stints at Idaho and San Jose State, Mastro went to work coaching the Nevada running backs in 2000 and enjoyed immediate success. In 2001, Chance Kretschmer, a walk-on redshirt freshman, was the nation’s leading rusher.
Vai Taua, the featured back this season, has averaged 127.8 yards per game on the ground with a 5.9 yards per carry average and 19 rushing touchdowns. Mastro has four other backs that scored touchdowns this year, although Taua’s primary backup, Lampford Mark, will miss the bowl game due to a knee injury.
Mastro is particularly proud of his runners’ ability to hang on to the ball, collectively losing just three fumbles all season.
“Everything we do is predicated on ball security,” Mastro said. “It is constantly drilled. It is reminded before every offensive series.”
Back home in San Francisco, where Mastro has visited extensively as the Wolf Pack’s recruiting coordinator since 2004, he and wife Teri, also a Milpitas High School grad, look forward to escaping to the Wharf for a dinner at Scoma’s, Jim Senior’s favorite spot in The City.
Boston College (7-5) vs. Nevada (12-1)
WHEN: Jan. 9, 6 p.m.
WHERE: AT&T Park
MASTRO’S HONOR: Nevada running backs coach Jim Mastro was honored as the Running Backs Coach of the year by www.FootballScoop.com