Star-Bulletin Sports


Hawaii's Lui Fuga, who a teammate calls a "mad man" on the field, returns to the defensive line after missing last season with shoulder problems.

Fuga back
to anchor
UH D-line

The 2000 co-most inspirational
player is healed and ready to go

Football notebook

By Dave Reardon

The cavalry arrives in August. Heavy cavalry.

At least five new defensive linemen -- including some junior college transfers who might contribute immediately -- join the Hawaii football team.

"A lot more beef is coming in. It's going to be fun coaching those guys. Just got to be patient," assistant coach Vantz Singletary said yesterday, the third day of spring football practice for the Warriors.

For now, though, only nine defensive linemen are in camp. One of them, starting defensive end Travis Laboy, is recuperating from surgery. But Singletary is used to working with a small number of big guys.

"We were just totally beat up, decimated by injuries last season," he said. "But in spring practice, it doesn't really matter. We can still do the drills we need to do with the number of guys we have."

Tackles Mike Iosua (a departed senior) and Lance Samuseva (now a junior) did an inspirational job, and Laboy and La'anui Correa made big plays from their end positions.

But while this was going on, one of the biggest, baddest and toughest Warriors of the previous season helplessly paced the sideline.

Lui Fuga is benching 385 pounds thanks to shoulder surgery, after struggling to lift just 200 pounds last season

Almost every week, one of the biggest questions was whether Lui Fuga could play. But unlike the previous season, the answer was always no. Fuga's formerly strong shoulders had simply taken too much pounding. He couldn't will himself into games the way he did in 2000.

"Without his presence inside, it really put a strain on guys like Mike Iosua and Lance Samuseva," Singletary said.

But Fuga, a 6-foot-1, 302-pound junior from Waipahu High School, is back.

"He's a little rusty in his technique. But he's going to be fine," Singletary said. "He's a veteran, a guy we're going to rely a great deal on. He's a guy who has been to war for us and is a leader in many ways. (He's) vocal, a guy the guys really respect."

In 2000, Fuga, the team's co-most inspirational player, was in on 42 tackles, despite playing hurt the entire season. He showed his promise as a freshman, recovering two fumbles in 11 games and making a sack in the 1999 Oahu Bowl.

Because Fuga was such a leader the year before, it was deflating for the Warriors to see him on the sideline last fall. The good news for UH is that because Fuga couldn't play last year, he gained an additional season of eligibility because of medical hardship -- hardship he says is history.

"My shoulders are OK," said Fuga, who underwent surgery on both last year. "The pain's gone down. It's way better than last year and every day it gets a little better."

Fuga speaks slowly in a soft voice, one that linebacker Chris Brown said doesn't match Fuga's on-field personality.

"The guy is a mad man, a psycho," converted defensive lineman Brown said. "He's the man in the front there. I remember playing with him up front as a freshman, how good he was at keeping the offensive linemen off of the linebackers. But he also makes plays because he's athletic, quick and strong. He's the real deal. Last year was really hard for him. But if you can't play, you can't play."

His shoulders were so weak, he could barely lift weights last year. Fuga's bench press is back up to 385 pounds now. Most of last year he struggled to push 200.

"Hopefully, I can get it up to 400 again soon," he said.

Highly regarded junior college transfer Isaac Sopoaga is progressing well in school, and should be ready in the fall, Singletary said. A rotation of Fuga, Sopoaga and Samuseva at tackle could give UH's defense a strong foundation.

For now, the guys who are here will work on technique, strength and quickness.

They want to spend more time wrecking opposing offenses and less time in the training room. They're a big reason coach June Jones limits contact in practice.

When the reinforcements come in August, Singletary will get a true idea of what he has to work with. His veterans did well last year, but they'd like to enjoy success with fewer injuries -- and with Fuga in the middle of things.

"Overall, everything's OK," Fuga said is his soft voice after practice yesterday.

They could be even better than that in the fall, especially if his shoulders hold out.

UH Athletics

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