Vakapuna Practices With First Team

With six games behind them, the Cougar offense is anticipating the return of running back Fui Vakapuna, who may very well be back after missing the last three games.

Fui Vakapuna rushed twice for 14 yards against Tulsa prior to suffering a hand injury, which later required surgery. The big Tongan running back had since been using a bone stimulator to speed up the healing process.

"Well, I'm back [at] 100 percent with the ankle and I'm glad to be back," said Vakapuna. "I feel right, I feel healthy and I feel good right now. It's just getting back into the swing of things with the offense."

"He brings an identity to our offense," said head coach Bronco Mendenhall. "He brings a physical presence and emotion and that part is just who he is, which is a great gift."

"Fui is probably the craziest teammate I've ever had," said center Sete Aulai. "When I see him running out there and pounding guys downfield, it gets me going. I really feed off of his emotion and I'm kind of sad that I'm not playing with him out on the field right now."

Vakapuna made the trip down to Vegas for the contest against the Running Rebels of UNLV, but he wasn't cleared to participate in the game.

"I was hoping to be ready to go for that game too," said a chuckling Vakapuna. "I wanted to get in there and play."

During Monday's practice, Vakapuna was out with the first-team offense, going full bore against the scout team defense. The big, bruising 230-pound running back took handoffs on sweep plays and ran the ball between the tackles.

"I just went through all the protocols and today it just finally felt right," said Vakapuna on getting back into the offensive action. "This was a trainer's decision to clear me for play today, so today I'm back with the offense and just going full speed. I got a couple of carries and it all came back. It was like riding a bike."

"We're happy to have him back," said Mendenhall. "He's been through a lot of adversity and he's handled it well. Whether he's back to participating in the game this week or next is still to be determined. I just want him back when he's ready, but I appreciate how he's handled his injury, and this will only make him stronger and more committed than what he already is."

Mendenhall said it will take more time to determine if Vakapuna will play against Eastern Washington or not.

"[Monday's] practice isn't a good enough indicator as to whether he is ready or not. We probably won't make that decision probably until Thursday after we've had a chance to see him a little bit more."

Although Vakapuna would say that he's ready to go right now, Coach Mendenhall is cautious when throwing his players into the mix, for fear that it may be done prematurely and may cause more harm than good. Coach Mendenhall attributed Vakapuna's eagerness to play to his competitive nature.

"Most of our players, if you were to ask them if they would be ready to play, would tell you yes. I'm more conservative and I've tried to do whatever I say as being factual and accurate, and in this case it's better to miss being conservative than the other."

Now that Vakapuna is back practicing and getting reps with the first team, he faces the challenge of picking up any changes in the offense that may have occurred while he was in rehabilitation.

"It feels right being back out there," said Vakapuna with a smile. "I'm just hoping now that the coaches didn't change any plays or add anything differently that I need to do. If not, then everything should be smooth, so right now everything seems to be back to normal. I just need to keep working hard and show the coaches that I've been working hard and can get back out on the field and play. When it's all said and done, with a good showing, being consistent and staying healthy, I'm hoping the coaches will allow me to get back in there and play."


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