Fuga given another

A medical-hardship ruling puts
the tackle back on the field

Lui Fuga figured his Hawaii football career was probably over.

The defensive tackle from Waipahu competed in spring drills last month, but he didn't know if the NCAA would give him another year or not.

Yesterday, Fuga got the news that he was granted an additional season this fall due to medical hardship.

"I was really shocked when Coach (June) Jones told me," Fuga said. "I'm really excited because I'm finally 100 percent healthy. It seems every year there was something wrong with me physically. Now this year I can really show what I can do."

Jones said he learned the outcome of the appeal yesterday morning.

"Very good news," Jones said. "We were anticipating this would be the outcome. Lui, though, was on pins and needles the past two months. He had a big smile on his face today."

If the 6-foot-1, 300-pound veteran of 35 games over the past five years can stay healthy, it will be a huge boost to a defense lacking experience. Fuga is expected to start and add stability to a defensive front that loses all four regular starters, including NFL draftees Isaac Sopoaga and Travis LaBoy, and two key backups.

After a stellar career at Waipahu High School, Fuga committed to UNLV in 1998. He went to Las Vegas briefly that summer, but never enrolled in school, so his eligibility clock didn't start.

Fuga started two of the 11 games he played for UH as a freshman in 1999. In 2000, he started eight of 11 played despite injuries to both shoulders and was named the team's Most Inspirational Player.

He sat out 2001 while recovering from surgery to both shoulders.

Fuga also missed the entire 2002 season except for a few plays at the beginning of the season opener against Eastern Illinois. The broken ankle he suffered in that game is the basis of the successful medical hardship petition.

Last year, Fuga played in 12 games. He was in on 21 tackles, including two sacks. He recovered three fumbles and intercepted a pass.

Defensive-line coach Vantz Singletary said Fuga is also valuable at practice.

"He really is like another assistant coach," Singletary said. "Sometimes I'll have him take the other defensive tackles and run the drills for them while I work with the ends.

"He's big for our team because of his work ethic, and he's respected by the players and the coaches. He's my eyes and ears behind the scene, and he lets me know if I'm pushing the guys too hard or not enough. And if there's ever a problem in the locker room, he's the guy to take care of it."

Fuga, who has a bachelor's degree in communications, said he expects to complete a master's in higher education administration next May.

"I love the challenge of football and school," he said. "I'm just going to keep on doing what I'm doing and help with the team discipline."


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