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Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Pack football: Player of the week Puloka gives Pack options at tight end

By Dan Hinxman
dhinxman@rgj.com

The Nevada football coaches vote on an offensive and defensive player of the week after each win.

The winner of the offensive award in Saturday's 31-21 victory over Hawaii is a player whose name does not appear anywhere in the statistics.

Senior tight end Talaiasi "Junior" Puloka Jr., a Hug High graduate, received the honor for his work in helping the running game become the national leader (319.1 yards per game) and in what his presence has done to open up the options at tight end.

"He gets better and better every game," Nevada coach Chris Ault said at the weekly Quarterback Club Luncheon at the Peppermill Hotel-Casino on Monday. "He is a physical football player. He doesn't say much. We like that. You can chew him out and he doesn't say anything. This guy's all Nevada. I'm really proud of Junior."

The 6-foot-4, 240-pound Puloka was a part-time starter in 2007 after Adam Bishop got hurt. Puloka played much of the season with a broken thumb, but still seemed to catch everything thrown his way. He had five catches for 48 yards and a touchdown in an offense that uses tight ends more as blockers than receivers.

His role has diminished with the arrival of junior Virgil Green, who is making a case for an All-Western Athletic Conference selection, but Saturday's performance is indicative that he hasn't lost his focus.

Last season he caught just one pass for nine yards. So far this season he has three receptions for 25 yards and one score, the second of his career.

Puloka and fellow senior Kevin Bohr have allowed the Wolf Pack to go to three tight ends on occasion, playing Green in a wingback role. That was the plan from the beginning, but Ault said the three are playing so well that they've been able to do more of that than they anticipated coming into the season.

The result is that Green has 17 catches for 217 yards and four TDs. The 17 catches is more than all three tight ends had combined all of last season. Tight ends had just one TD catch in 2008.

"It's because Kevin Bohr and Junior have both stepped up to the plate," Ault said.

Ault said junior defensive end Ryan Coulson, who started in place of the injured Kevin Basped, and junior cornerback Doyle Miller were named co-defensive players of the week. Senior offensive tackle Alonzo Durham was named the Basalite Big Blocker, which goes to the offensive lineman who grades out the highest in a victory. It was the second straight such honor for Durham.

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