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Monday, March 09, 2009

Suspended DT Mikaele back, vows 'no mistakes'

By Ryan Finley
Arizona Daily Star
Tucson, Arizona | Published: 03.09.2009

The Arizona Wildcats were enjoying their greatest moment in a decade, and Lolomana Mikaele was nowhere to be found.

The UA defensive tackle watched December's Las Vegas Bowl victory over BYU on television from Tucson.

Mikaele was suspended from the team, disappointed in himself and angry with the circumstances. He was also motivated.

"I didn't even go home to Hawaii for winter break," he said. "I just stayed here and worked out. I tried to get back on top."

Mikaele had one goal: to regain his eligibility and form in time for spring drills. As a result, the Wildcats' 15-practice sessions this spring may mean more to him than any player on the team.

Mikaele missed the entire 2008 season after being suspended for an unspecified violation of team rules. Mikaele, 21, chalked his mistakes up to "some team stuff, some academic stuff and some miscommunication."

Mikaele's suspension was lifted in time for the start of spring drills; he's listed first on the depth chart at nose tackle.

"He brings another physical presence inside that will definitely help us," UA coach Mike Stoops said. "You take football away from a player like that, and he's going to come back hungrier. He's been practicing well. He's taking care of business."

Before the suspension, Mikaele — a 6-foot-2-inch, 310-pound Hawaiian — was viewed as one of the Wildcats' rising stars. He played in all 12 games as a freshman in 2007, registering 13 tackles.
Heading into last season, Mikaele was expected to anchor a UA defensive line that was debuting a converted fullback (Earl Mitchell) at tackle and two first-time starters (Ricky Elmore and Brooks Reed) at end.

The suspension slowed his development some, though he was still allowed to practice, and forced the Wildcats to be desperately thin at tackle.

"It was real frustrating, but I felt like I'd still come out and get some work done," he said. "Really, it was like another spring ball."

Mikaele's return, coupled with a generous recruiting haul, means Arizona should be stronger — if not dominant — on the line starting this fall. The Wildcats signed defensive tackles Sione Tuihalamaka and Jonathan Hollins to help fill some of their holes. The team's two starters, Mitchell and Donald Horton, are also returning after posting solid seasons.

Mikaele hopes he can return to his 2007 form; he has already added 15 pounds of muscle to his solid frame, and said he wants to add more.

His biggest growth, however, has come off the field. Mikaele will play the 2009 season with one thing on his mind. "No mistakes, man," he said. "I can't let mistakes hold me back."

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