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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Fotu works to recapture magic

By Kalani Takase
Advertiser Staff Writer

Last year was a bittersweet memory for Nai Fotu.

The junior from La'ie was a big part of the University of Utah football team's magical 13-0 season, but a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee suffered in the final regular season game, kept Fotu out of a 31-17 Sugar Bowl victory over Alabama.

"I was pretty bummed, but all I cared about was winning for my teammates and all I could do was support them," said Fotu, who made the trip to New Orleans with the team. "It was a whole different experience. It was amazing, the fans were crazy and everybody was just pumped for the game."

Fotu, who rehabbed his left knee all offseason, said he has been rotating with the first unit in fall camp.

"Our trainers had me working hard this summer and I got released from rehab about a month ago," Fotu said. "I knew I was going to play this year, because I really wanted to, but I didn't know that I was going to be back this quick. I just wanted to work hard and listen to our trainers and just do what I had to do."

Fotu, who was named to the All-State first team by The Advertiser following his senior season at Kahuku, saw limited action as a true freshman in 2007 for the Utes. In 13 games, he had 11 tackles — 3 1/2 for losses and 2 1/2 for sacks. Fotu began the season at defensive end but was moved to linebacker. He saw most of his action on special teams.

Last year, Fotu started eight of the 12 games he played in at strongside linebacker, collecting 35 tackles — 5 1/2 for losses and two for sacks before suffering the season-ending injury against rival BYU. This fall, the 6-foot, 240-pound Fotu entered camp back at defensive end.

"I'm really not sure if I'm permanently a defensive end, I'll find out later if I have to play some outside linebacker, too, but right now I am playing defensive end," said Fotu, who said the adjustment hasn't been difficult. "In high school, I played defensive end and I was recruited here as a defensive end, so going from linebacker to defensive end wasn't too hard for me because I've played the position before and experienced it."

Utah, which has won or held a share of four Mountain West Conference titles, is favored to win it again.

"We use it as a motivation," Fotu said. "We have goals that are meant to motivate us and one of our goals is to win the Mountain West championship every year."

However, Fotu said the Utes are not looking past any opponents — a strategy that worked for them last year.

"The main thing that we had going was taking the games one day at a time and not looking ahead," Fotu said. "We wouldn't want to change anything if it helped us go 13-0."

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