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Growing up on the Central Coast, Elijah Cooks and Toa Taua did a little bit of everything playing in the various youth football circuits. 

In 2018, the local duo joined forces at the University of Nevada, Reno, to become surprise contributors to an improved Wolf Pack program.

In 2019, even though their regular season ended with a disappointing loss to rival UNLV, the duo has become the top contributors on a Wolf Pack team that is once again bowl eligible. 

Taua, a 2018 Lompoc High grad who starred in youth football all over the Central Coast, and Cooks, who graduated from Atascadero in 2018 but grew up in Orcutt and spent two years at St. Joseph High, are both their team's leaders at their respective positions. 

Taua easily led the Wolf Pack in rushing for the second year in a row as Nevada finished with a 7-5 overall record with Saturday's 33-30 overtime loss to UNLV (4-8) at Mackay Stadium in Reno.

Cooks led the Wolf Pack in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns.

Both are true sophomores for Nevada. 

Taua rushed for 43 yards on 15 carries in Saturday's season finale. For the regular season, Taua racked up 766 yards on 190 carries with six rushing touchdowns.

Taua scored the game-winning touchdown in Nevada's 35-28 win over Fresno State on Nov. 23, in another trip to his home state. Playing against another California team earlier this season, Taua piled up a season-best 160 rushing yards against San Jose State in October. 

Taua was named the Mountain West Conference Freshman of the Year in 2018 after leading the Wolf Pack with 872 rushing yards and six touchdowns. As a sophomore, Taua also caught 32 passes for 199 yards.

Taua rushed for over 4,600 yards and 73 touchdowns during his days as a Brave, where he started on varsity as a freshman.

Though Nevada lost to rival UNLV on Saturday, Cooks had his best game of the season. The sophomore went over 100 yards for the first time this year and had his first double-digit catch performance of the season with 12 grabs for 150 yards. 

Cooks completed his second regular season at Nevada with 62 catches for 728 yards, though he could add on to those numbers if the Wolf Pack are selected for a bowl game.

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It was unclear at press time if Nevada would in fact land a bowl bid. In the Mountain West Conference there are five guaranteed bowl bids and seven conference teams reaching bowl eligibility. 

Cooks also threw a touchdown pass this season, something Taua did as a freshman. Cooks played a lot of quarterback growing up, playing for youth teams such as the Orcutt Outlawz, before playing quarterback at the JV level at St. Joseph. 

"I played quarterback growing up. My whole goal coming up when I was a little kid was I wanted to throw at least one pass in college and I did that," Cooks said in a post-game interview after throwing at touchdown against San Diego State. "I'm really hyped about that. That was fun."

Cooks also played basketball in high school, and joined the Nevada men's hoops team during their 2018 run to the NCAA Sweet 16. 

Cooks led Nevada with seven receiving touchdowns this year. At 6-foot-4, 210 pounds, the 20-year-old definitely has the physical traits to play at the next level.

Prep wrestling

LPAL Challenge

Nipomo went 2-0 at the LPAL Challenge boys wrestling event that the Saints hosted at their Wilson Gym Wednesday.

The Titans defeated Atascadero 54-30 and Lompoc by the same score.

The host team went 0-2 in its season debut. Santa Maria lost to Cabrillo 42-39 and Morro Bay 63-46.

The Saints did get two pins from Erik Perez at 170 pounds. Perez went 2-0.

Cabrillo went 1-2, edging Santa Maria and losing to Atascadero 48-31 and to Morro Bay 67-6.

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Joe Bailey is the sports editor at Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Contact him with tips and story ideas at jbailey@leecentralcoastnews.com or (805) 739-2239. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jbaileysmsports

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