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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Akey brings in new talent

Written by Jennifer Schlake - Argonaut
Thursday, 25 February 2010

As the weather warms up and the basketball season comes to an end, it’s time for the football season to start back up. Hoping to continue the University of Idaho football team’s momentum from the previous season’s 8-5 record, including a Humanitarian Bowl win, coach Robb Akey is bringing several additions to the upcoming season.

In January, a group of high school graduates and junior college transfers were announced as new additions to an already talented roster. Now, Akey has brought in a new kind of talent — talent in the hands of a coach.

After former quarterbacks coach Jonathan Smith left UI for an offensive coordinator position at Montana, former tight ends coach Steve Axeman moved to coach the quarterbacks, leaving Akey in need to fill the tight end coaching position.

But filling the position seemed to be an easy task for Akey, who said he knew in the interview that Al Pupunu was perfect for the position.

Pupunu was a coach at Southern Utah University, and most importantly a former San Diego Charger — becoming the Offensive Player of the Game in the 1994 AFC Championship game. Pupunu spent nine seasons in the NFL.

But it wasn’t NFL experience that attracted Akey to Pupunu — it was his ability to teach.

“Sometimes those NFL guys aren’t always great coaches, because they don’t necessarily teach because they are more gifted than everybody else,” Akey said. “That’s what I needed to find out from Al in his interview: Has he made himself a teacher since he got done playing the game? And he has.”
The relationship between Akey and Pupunu runs deep, all the way back to Akey’s coaching days at Weber State, where Pupunu led the FCS with 93 receptions in 1991. The 93 mark still stands as the second best by a tight end in FCS history.

“Being back with coach Akey—he had a lot of energy and a lot of guys respected that,” Pupunu said. “He’s turned this program around and I just want to be a part of that.”

Pupunu said he hopes to improve tight ends’ footwork and technique.

As a coach, Pupunu said he is more hands-on and brings a lot of focus toward detail — something he said he hopes will pass onto the players to get them going.

Pupunu, a native of Tonga, is married with four children. Without even finishing the school year, his family has already made plans to move to the area.
With his first day already behind him, Pupunu said he is already looking forward to spring ball in a few weeks.

“I just want my guys, the tight ends, to be the best they can be and be a good example to these young men,” Pupunu said. “Football’s just another tool.”
Since Akey has been a coach at UI, there has not been a Walter Camp All-American or NFL tight end come out of the team. Having this experience and skill, Akey said Pupunu will be somebody the players will want to listen to.

“He has some tricks of the trade (from) playing at the highest level that can help him communicate to those guys,” Akey said. “It helps something that has been a good thing continue to grow.”

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