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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

New Vandals assistant football coach can draw on his experience in the NFL Read more:

daho tight end Daniel Hardy's last position coach - offensive coordinator Steve Axman - is the author of several books about football.

So it was ironic when Hardy described his new position coach Alfred Pupunu as "a book," because "he has so much knowledge of the game and tight end position."

Pupunu, the former All-American at Weber State and nine-year NFL veteran, has definitely made an impression on Idaho's young crop of tight ends. He was hired in February.

"Alfred has played the position at the highest level so he got those players' attention from the very get go," Idaho coach Robb Akey said. "He's got an intensity about him and the players all understand that. He gets their attention."

Pupunu and the Vandals completed the fourth of their 15 spring practices Tuesday. With the exception of Hardy, Pupunu is working with a young and inexperienced group of tight ends and H-backs. That's fine with Pupunu, who says he enjoys coaching because of these situations.

"What I like is teaching these guys from Day One, and seeing guys who don't know how to block or run routes and watching them get better and master it," he said. "Watching them take off is really satisfying. The only way they can learn is if you throw them right into the fire."

Pupunu played in the NFL for the San Diego Chargers, New York Giants and Detroit Lions from 1992 to 2000. But you won't hear the native of Tonga talking too much about his NFL past. In fact, if Akey hadn't told the Vandal players, most of them wouldn't have known their new coach played in the NFL or scored the winning touchdown in the 1994 AFC Championship game that sent the Chargers to their first and only Super Bowl.

"I didn't know he played in the league until they informed me," Hardy said.

What the 40-year-old Pupunu does, however, is stress how he went from Weber State to football's largest stage.

"I tell them this - if you want to take it to the next level, you've got to pay attention to the details and take care of the little things," Pupunu said. "That's something that got me through to the next level. If you want to be good at something, you've got to work hard at it. If that means coming in and watching a little more film on your own, that's what you have to do."

The NFL background wasn't what landed Pupunu his first full-time job at the Division I level. It was his ability to teach the position and his past relationship with Akey, who was a coach on the Weber State staff when Pupunu played for the Wildcats.

"A lot of times I stay away from NFL guys because a lot of times those guys come out and they're not very good teachers," Akey said.

The teaching aspect has impressed Hardy.

"Our first meeting was a one-on-one, and I wanted to tell him how I just wanted to get better going into my senior year," Hardy said. "In 5 minutes talking to him, he taught me five ways to get off the jam and how to tighten my routes and about blocking.

"I learned a lot of things from coach Axman, too. He's a genius in what he knows about offense, but to really have it narrowed down into one position from a guy who actually played it and at the highest level is great. I've learned a lot in a very short amount of time."

Pupunu technically replaced quarterbacks coach Jonathan Smith on Idaho's staff. Smith left to become the offensive coordinator at Montana, and when he left, Axman went to his natural coaching position (quarterbacks). Pupunu took over as tight ends coach, perhaps strengthening the staff.

"You don't like having shakeup but sometimes you can make shakeup be a good thing," Akey said.

Nick Jezierny: 377-6420

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