BOULDER, Colo. — Seven games, 127 plays, 19 tackles.
Those numbers are a far cry from the season Colorado linebacker Michael Sipili hoped to put together last fall after returning from a one-year absence from the playing field.
The hard-nosed middle linebacker from Hawaii struggled with a variety of issues that kept him on the sidelines more often than in the fray, regardless of whether it was Saturday's big game or a Tuesday afternoon practice.
His back first tightened up on him in fall camp and the problem persisted through much of the rest of the season. Sipili also struggled to focus on school work, which led to coaches taking football away at times so he would have to apply himself to his studies.
Sipili has participated fully in each of the first two practices this spring and is beginning to resemble the player who burst into the lineup as a true freshman in 2006, stealing playing time away from senior Thaddaeus Washington that year.
"I'm feeling good. I feel great," he said Thursday in the Dal Ward Center. "Right now there is not much to worry about. I'm just trying to focus on school and trying to get these grades up so I don't have to worry about anything else."
Longtime linebackers coach Brian Cabral is excited to see the change in Sipili, and he believes he now understands more fully much of what has held his hardest-hitting player back. Some might call it culture shock.
"There is a little bit of a language barrier, which has taken me three years to figure that out," Cabral said. "Understanding English and speaking English is good, but English is a second language to him. Samoan is his first language. Most of the Polynesian kids, most of everything they respond to is, 'Yes coach.' Whether or not they understand it, 'Yes coach.' I've found out that even in my coaching him during the games, that he doesn't always understand. We both came to the conclusion that he needs to communicate more, and I need to communicate better. We need to close the gap."
Sipili said he is not going to get too far ahead of himself in talking about next season. He admits he still has work to do to make sure he is academically eligible in the fall, but he seems confident he will get there.
"If he keeps going the way he's going, not only will we see him, but we'll need him," Cabral said.
Sipili said the offseason conditioning program has helped him drop a few pounds and become more fit for the field. He has been working with the second team defense through the first two practices as the backup at middle linebacker to senior Marcus Burton.
"Mike is a different guy," Cabral said. "He faded at the end of last season and at the end of last semester, but now he's a different guy. He's always got a smile on his face, and he's really trying to work to improve. He's trying to do everything and more that we're asking him to do."