Suaesi Tuimaunei was demoted before midseason last year, but has returned with a vengeance.
The Oregon State safety was groomed to be a starter as junior. The coaches liked his work ethic and character.
However, he struggled in pass coverage. It became evident to opponents Tuimaunei was the one to attack in OSU's coverage.
Tuimaunei went through the emotional letdown of losing his spot, but he rebounded on special teams and was dedicated to improving during the offseason.
That dedication has paid off as he is in a three-way rotation with Lance Mitchell and Cameron Collins for the two safety positions. They'll be used extensively this season.
"I've gotten smarter and stronger, quicker," Tuimaunei said. "I'm more comfortable in the field now than before."
Getting there, however, was a challenge.
Defensive coordinator Mark Banker remembers three specific times in the first four games last season were Tuimaunei was beat deep - the big no-no for a safety.
"I might have put him in situations that I thought he was more capable of executing certain things in our scheme," Banker said. "Then plays came up where a more difficult person or pattern came up and it became the focus of the play."
At first Banker tried to help Tuimaunei work through the problems. There was extra attention in practice and film study.
However, the situation didn't improve. A change was made, and it helped strengthen the defense.
"The biggest thing is confidence," Banker said. "I think he totally lost his confidence. That confidence of looking forward to getting back out there wasn't the same."
Besides being a backup to younger players, Tuimaunei played as the nickel back in passing situations and on special teams.
"It was a real humbling experience," Tuimaunei said. "I can't explain it. It put me in my place. I wanted to do better. I don't know."
Tuimaunei was second on the team in special teams tackles with 10 in the regular season. His attitude was different on those plays.
The Pacific-10 Conference coaches honored Tuimaunei as an all-conference player for his special teams performance.
"That really did give me a boost of confidence," Tuimaunei said. "I guess I figured if I can't play on defense, I'd go all out on special teams."
Seeing that, Banker didn't give up on Tuimaunei. He believed there was a good football player inside.
"He thrived on special teams all year," Banker said. "The passion for football was there. Then with more reps in the spring and us showing confidence in him, it came back to him."
Tuimaunei hit the offseason weight training hard. He signed up for the optional Saturday morning workout developed by strength coach Bryan Miller.
That led into a stellar spring practice. Mitchell and Collins stood out with big plays, but Banker felt Tuimaunei had the better spring in terms of being fundamentally sound.
"I had to move on," Tuimaunei said. "I couldn't stay in the past. I couldn't dwell on it. I had to get better in the offseason."
The two starting safeties are not set, and it may change each week. They know they are going to be in the game plan, so it's competitive in how they can out-do each other in practice.
For Tuimaunei that's a better situation than the end of last season.
He has salvaged his career.
"All three guys bring something different to the table," Banker said. "No one is a complete player. They are working on the things they need to. The thought now is to play three guys until someone solidifies themselves as someone who deserves to stay on the field."