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UH's Nauahi makes shift in fortunes and direction


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POSTED: Tuesday, April 07, 2009

The concept of taking a “;mental rep”; proved quite profitable for Viliami Nauahi.

In football parlance, the term refers to visualizing a play or a drill even while waiting on the sideline during practice.

Nauahi applied the idea while waiting his turn at an audition for “;Wheel of Fortune”; last year, taking note of comments from producers while other hopefuls performed.

He ended up nailing the audition, getting called back to appear on the show and ultimately winning more than $47,000 in cash and prizes in an appearance that aired in November.

“;It's totally a blessing,”; said Nauahi, a non-scholarship player on the Hawaii football team. “;I can eat some meat instead of saimin.”;

After taking mental reps for most of his first two years with the Warriors, Nauahi is taking a turn in the spotlight on the field this spring.

While Blaze Soares and Paipai Falemalu continue their comebacks from injuries that kept them off the field last season, Nauahi has been running with the first team at outside linebacker in the Warriors' first four sessions of spring practice.

“;I'm not used to getting all the reps,”; Nauahi said after yesterday's practice at Ching Field. “;Now I've got an opportunity to show what I've got and hopefully get some playing time.

“;From day to day I'm getting more comfortable, but there's a lot more to work on.”;

Nauahi was an all-state safety at Kahuku and worked in the secondary when he joined the Warriors in 2007 after a two-year absence from the game while attending Windward and Kapiolani community colleges.

Nauahi's primary role was on special teams last year and the coaches moved him to linebacker midway through the season. The extra work this spring is helping him adjust to the new position.

“;He's a hitter and smart, he's picking it up real well,”; UH head coach Greg McMackin said. “;He gets a lot of reps so we really can see how he can be when (Soares and Falemalu) come back.”;

McMackin has a history of shifting players around to give the Warriors more speed on defense, dating back to his initial season in the program in 1999.

Nauahi, listed at 215 pounds last season, checked in at 230 for the spring as he adjusts to taking on offensive linemen more often. But he doesn't want to sacrifice speed for added bulk.

Among the biggest changes he's making is the direction of his first step at the snap.

“;At safety you're reading pass first. Linebackers are reading run first so instead of going back I'm coming forward. So now we've got some linemen I have to deal with,”; he said. “;I wouldn't say it's a big difference. The coaches are always saying the linebackers are just big DBs, so I have to get that mentality.”;

As for his turn on The Wheel, Nauahi said he didn't mention his role on the football team during the audition process and cleared the appearance with the UH compliance office before agreeing to play.

He said the winnings are in the bank and he's no longer worried about finding the funds for summer school or his next semester.

And his performance still gets him noticed around town.

“;It doesn't get old,”; Nauahi said. “;(My teammates) are always asking for loans.”;