Tuioti-Mariner is ready for his shot
Blessed with a sturdy foundation himself, Lafu Tuioti-Mariner aims to solidify his place as one of the building blocks for the Hawaii offensive line this spring.
Tuioti-Mariner has seemingly been on the cusp of breaking into the lineup -- first on the defensive front before switching to offense -- since he joined the program in 2004. But playing time has proven elusive. With his senior season coming up in the fall, these 15 practices represent a chance to take hold of a starting job.
"I've been waiting for a long time, but I have no regrets," said Tuioti-Mariner, who entered the spring atop the depth chart at right guard.
"It's been tough, but I just had to be humble and wait because there were guys out there in front of me that were really good, so I try my best and compete. ... This is important to me because it's my last spring and I want to make the best out of it."
Tuioti-Mariner began his UH career as a defensive lineman, making the travel roster early in his freshman season before earning the unit's Most Valuable Scout award. A shoulder injury hampered his progress and former coach June Jones suggested a move to offense, where he backed up Samson Satele and John Estes at center the past two seasons.
The 6-foot, 285-pound Tuioti-Mariner looked like he'd found a home at guard this spring, filling the spot held by Larry Sauafea last season, though he shifted back to center for yesterday's practice with Estes nursing a hamstring injury.
Flanking him with the first unit were Aaron Kia (tackle) and Keith AhSoon (guard) on the left side and Raphael Ieru (guard) and Keoni Steinhoff (tackle) on the right.
"He's pretty versatile," offensive line coach Brian Smith said. "I'd like to get him going more at guard. It's tough with John being out, but he's doing a good job of filling where we need him for now."
For his part, Tuioti-Mariner isn't picky about where he lines up.
"It doesn't matter, I just came here to play ball," said Tuioti-Mariner, an all-star offensive tackle at Corona High School in California. "Wherever you put me I'll just play my best."
Among the keys to holding his position on the depth chart heading into the summer will be his ability to hold his ground at the line of scrimmage. This is a strength for him, thanks largely to the leverage he creates with a powerful lower body.
Tuioti-Mariner displayed that strength in preseason testing when he squatted a team-high 610 pounds.
"There were like six plates on each side ... and when he stood up it just bounced and (the bar) was like an arch over his back," said senior defensive tackle Keala Watson, who spotted for Tuioti-Mariner that day. "I was scared because I didn't think I could even spot him, but he just went down, came right back up and racked it."
"The best part about it," Tuioti-Mariner said, "was after I squatted I turned around and I saw the whole team just cheering. I was pretty stoked about it."
Watson and Tuioti-Mariner broke in together as freshmen on the defensive line back in 2004 and now face each other in one-on-one and team periods.
"He has nice footwork, and once he gets under you ... if he gets you on the inside, it's over for you," Watson said.
Other than having the quarterback taking snaps under center, Tuioti-Mariner said the blocking schemes remain largely the same despite tweaks to the offense and he's gotten a feel for making the line calls when he does play center.
As Tuioti-Mariner heads toward the end of his college career, his younger brother will just be starting out in the fall. Max Tuioti-Mariner, a senior at Corona, was among the nation's top-rated high school linemen and signed with Colorado in February.
"I was happy he made that decision," said Lafu, who tried to sway Max into joining him at UH. "I told him, 'I'm supporting you all the way, when I'm done here I'm going straight to Colorado to watch you.' "