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Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Lineman Ate Way Into Lineup

Below is an article on Tavo Tupola from the Honolulu Advertiser's Leila Wai after last week's MWC Press Conference as noted in an earlier post on Sunday.

Posted on: Wednesday, July 26, 2006

HOMEGROWN REPORT
Lineman ate way into lineup

By Leila Wai
Advertiser Staff Writer

Tavo Tupola made big gains during his two-year church mission.

So much so that the former strong safety was enlisted as an offensive lineman for the University of Utah, where he has been the starting left tackle the past three seasons.

The 1999 Kahuku graduate saw his weight rise from 190 pounds to 290 during his mission to Tucson, Ariz., which he took from 2000 to 2002.

"It just happened by chance. I was getting bigger and bigger, and I liked it," Tupola said. "It was good weight. We walked around a lot, and I was on a bike for my first 11 months."

The weight gain and position change have proven to be beneficial to Tupola, who is now 6 feet 4 and 300 pounds. The Mountain West Conference second-team selection in 2005 has been named a 2006 preseason all-MWC selection by conference coaches and CollegeFootballNews.com.

He also was named to the Outland Trophy watch list for college football's top interior lineman.

Tupola said he didn't purposely put on pounds, but when he would go to homes of host families, "They saw me, and they thought, 'Oh this guy can eat a lot, let's make him a lot of food.' "

He ate "a lot of beans and rice; whatever the Mexicans were eating."

His favorites? Burritos and chile relleno.

Although many church missions are done abroad, Tupola was "glad I stayed in the U.S. If not, I probably would have gotten skinnier if I went internationally.

"I had the opportunity to meet a lot of people. I served on a border town. The people who are from Mexico are a lot like Polynesian people. Whatever little they have, they give to the other, and they are very religious. And they cook great food."

Tupola returned to Utah, which he signed with during high school, at the completion of his mission in the summer of 2002.

"The o-line coach was like, 'No question about it, we're putting you on the o-line.' And I was like 'whatever, just put me on the field.'

"It was exciting, and anything new is exciting."

It was tough getting back into football, Tupola said. "It was mostly my back, because the weight was killing me. It took me a while to get used to it. Probably about a good year."

He redshirted his first year back, learning how to play his position and adjusting to the new weight.

"It was a big adjustment, you go from safety, running around, to being in a restrictive space," he said. "I love playing o-line way better than safety. There's less running."

With a background in playing safety, which utilizes quick hands and feet, it didn't take Tupola long to make the transition to the trenches.

"The o-line is the same thing, but bigger bodies," he said. "You have to be quick off the ball. The technique is a big thing, and I picked it up naturally."

Tupola has been the starting left tackle for the Utes since three games into his redshirt freshman year, when the player ahead of him was injured.

"The first game I was nervous, because I wasn't even prepared mentally to play in the game (against California)," Tupola said. "I remember being on the line, and my legs were just shaking so bad."

He's come a long way — Tupola was No. 28 on CollegeFootballNews.com's top 30 players in the Mountain West — and his maturity makes him a natural leader on the team.

"I like it, guys look up to me as more of the wise one. I get jokes about being 30 all the time," said Tupola, who is 25. "They say what year did you graduate? Oh, 1999. So Coolio was the jam back then."

Off the field, Tupola took another big step in his life when he married Andria Uale, a middle school teacher in Utah who is from Hawai'i Kai. The ceremony was held in February in Hawai'i, where the couple hope "in the long run, to get back there."

First, Tupola hopes to get a shot in the NFL.

"It's within reach now," he said. "There's no pressure, it's just football. It's simple, and that's how it should be played."

If not, he hopes to become a counselor. He works at a student-intervention center, working with at-risk kids.

Marriage and experience have added an extra dimension to Tupola's game.

"I'm more settled," he said. "I'm more relaxed. I feel no pressure at all."

It is a change from the start of last season, when Tupola and his teammates were trying to follow a perfect 12-0 season.

"That year went by so fast because we were having so much fun winning games," he said. "(In 2005) we tried to live in memory of the 2004 season. We couldn't separate ourselves (from) the 2005 season. Once we figured things out, we won four of the last five games. We knocked out Georgia Tech (in the Emerald Bowl)."

This season, he expects the Utes to be successful.

"If we're as good as we think we are, we should do pretty good," he said.

Reach Leila Wai at lwai@honoluluadvertiser.com.

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