Eagles' Reno Mahe may be the hardest working RB in football
Posted: Wednesday May 5, 2004 4:55PM; Updated: Wednesday May 5, 2004 5:34PM
Undrafted NFL Running Backs
PHILADELPHIA -- It's virtually impossible, in a salary-cap-era NFL offseason, to get the dollar signs out of your eyes. They're everywhere. If it's not LaVar Arrington carping about the $6.5 million that the Redskins cheated him out of, it's Ty Law moaning that he's underpaid at $8.4 million per year. Rich Gannon won't take a penny less than $7 million, on principle, of course, and team guy Peyton Manning lands himself a $34.5 million signing bonus.
Which is all well and good. Get what you can get, and let the zeros pile up. Just give me Reno Mahe.
My new favorite NFL player had a little financial situation of his own to work out this offseason. The second-year Eagles running back -- and I'm not making this up -- asked if he could work a part-time job that pays $7 an hour, and was thrilled when he got it. That's right, $7. Roughly what a good shoe shine will run you.
Three nights a week, Mahe (pronounced MAH-hay) is a host at a South Philly institution called Chickie's and Pete's Café, just a stone's throw away from the Eagles sparkling NovaCare team complex. He greets and seats the patrons at the sports bar-style restaurant, which doubles as a favorite hangout of Eagles players, and also helps clear tables, wipe down the menus and sells T-shirts from the front register.
I don't know yet whether they trust him to make the bank deposits, but it's something to work up to.
"I figured if you're not making money, you're spending money,'' said Mahe, who was one of the surprises of the Eagles' 2003 preseason, when he made the 53-man roster as a collegiate free agent out of BYU. "I don't know. I had to do something. My workouts take only about a couple hours a day and I had a bunch of time on my hands, so I figured I'd go get what I guess is called a moonlighting job.
"It keeps you humble. The first week of offseason workouts, I found myself hanging out there most of the time. So I talked to the manager, and I was like, 'Would you hire me if I wanted to get a job here?' And they're like, 'Yeah, sure.' ''
If you are wondering, and I know you are, Mahe made the NFL rookie minimum of $225,000 last year. This year, if he makes the team, he'll be pulling down a cool $305,000. Not chump change in the real world, but it won't cover even the expenses for your entourage in the NFL fast lane.
So, with a wife and two small children waiting for him to fly home every Thursday afternoon back in Spring, Texas, near Houston, Mahe keeps plugging along on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday nights, pulling down between 15 and 20 hours a week at Chickie's and Pete's. In the mornings on Monday through Thursday, he's working hard to keep his day job, never missing a second of the Eagles offseason drills.
"I enjoy it so much,'' said Mahe of his second job, which he has held down for about six weeks now. "I keep telling them that they're doing me such a big favor, allowing me to work there and stuff. It's nice, because I'm new to this area, so you kind of get to know the South Philly people, and get to appreciate their love for sports over here.''
An NFL player gushing about getting to rub shoulders with the fans? Lord knows that's more refreshing than a day-long shower. Oh, and did I mention that on Fridays Mahe substitute teaches back in Texas for the Spring Independent School District? Who knowswhat he's pulling down for that assignment.
"I do it because with this job, playing in the NFL, you never know how long this can last,'' Mahe said. "You've just got to play your cards right. The NFL can give me a good start in life, but it's not going to make me set for life. We're buying a house this year. These extra jobs, they help pay for the diapers.''
Pete Ciarrocchi, owner of Chickie's and Pete's Café, wants to clone Mahe and have one at each of his three Philadelphia-area restaurants. Eagles Freddie Mitchell, Jevon Kearse, Brian Westbrook and Jon Runyan are regulars at his establishment, but only Mahe seems to light up the place with his presence.
"Reno brings the level of enthusiasm at the restaurant up about 10 notches,'' Ciarrocchi said. "It's so contagious that my wife called the restaurant one day asking for me, and when Reno answered, she said you could hear his smile through the phone. Hiring him was a no-brainer. It made me look like the best businessman in the area.''
Mahe, a practicing Mormon whose family came from the Pacific islands of Tonga, doesn't drink or smoke. He decided to get another job in the evenings rather than spend long, lonely hours by himself in a hotel room or an apartment.
"He actually likes working here,'' Ciarrocchi said. "I'm going to call out to Utah and tell them to send me more employees. These Mormons are the best. They make Quakers look wild. Everybody loves Reno.''
And here's the sweetest part: Mahe is no feel-good story who is likely to be working fulltime in the food service industry come September. He made the Eagles roster last season with his versatility and his eye-opening training camp showing. This year, with veteran running back Duce Staley gone to Pittsburgh, Mahe is the front-runner to emerge as the third option behind Westbrook and Correll Buckhalter in Philadelphia's three-man running back rotation.
With Staley gone, everyone expected the Eagles to either sign another veteran back or draft a runner in the early rounds of the draft. But Philadelphia selected only University of Minnesota fullback/running back Thomas Tapeh in the fifth round, and Eagles officials have insisted that Mahe is up to the challenge of replacing Staley's yards. Even though Mahe played in only four games last season (including both Eagles playoffs games), with just one reception for five yards and 11 punt returns.
"I don't think there's any question at all that we're happy with (Westbrook and Buckhalter),'' said Eagles vice president of player personnel Tom Heckert . "The one that we're kind of leaving out is Reno Mahe. I don't know how people feel about Reno, but he's a great receiver. The kid caught almost 100 balls his junior year in college, so we know he can be a receiver out of the backfield.
"And we think he shows run skills. Everybody assumes that this guy is small (5-10, 215 pounds), but when you think about it, he's about the same size as Brian Westbrook (5-foot-10, 205). We have expectations for this guy. He can be a punt returner for us. We're not in a situation where we think we have to have a running back here.''
Eagles offensive coordinator Brad Childress and head coach Andy Reid both gave Mahe high marks after Philadelphia's three-day minicamp last weekend, and they like that he has added almost 10 pounds of muscle to his stocky frame this offseason.
"I came out of this camp feeling good about Reno,'' said Reid, whose oldest son, Garrett, first befriended Mahe while attending BYU. "He did a nice job. He caught the ball well and moved around well. Obviously his (punt) return ability is a factor.''
A personal favorite of both Reid and Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb, Mahe, 23, has pretty good job security with Philadelphia. But he pretends not to notice, maintaining the same whatever-it-takes attitude he exhibited last training camp, when he was quoted saying he'd "volunteer to do the laundry'' in order to keep his roster spot.
"I'm trying to do everything I can to not let them let me go,'' said Mahe, who is a cousin of former NFL running back/return man Vai Sikahema. "That means coming in and getting all four of my workouts done every week this offseason, and doing all the little things right. It makes you feel good to hear what they've said, but it's the NFL. You can't take any of that into consideration. People will say things, but you've just always got to stay grounded and always work hard. You never take anything for granted.''
Staying grounded and working hard apparently come easily to Mahe, and good for him. But it's also good for the rest of us, too. Because his is the first story I've heard this offseason where the money really matters. All $7 an hour of it.