"People who have never played the position just can't understand what it takes," said defensive line coach Steve Kaufusi. "You're getting hit over and over again from three different directions and it takes a lot out of you. Finding the right guy or the right rotation of guys to fill in at nose tackle isn't easy since it's so physically demanding. Not everyone can do it well."
Those who have been pegged to do it this spring are a trio of candidates in Mosese Foketi, Rick Wolfley and Tevita Hola. All players are battling hard as they look to lead the defense at the nose into the 2008 season.
"It's fun being able to compete," said junior college transfer Tevita Hola. "The first week I really didn't know what was going on. This week I've learned some things and I feel I'm better able to complete my assignments."
Hola affords a luxury for Coach Kaufusi that he hasn't had in recent years. With Hola coming in with junior college experience and a full spring to adjust to the rigors of Division I play and academics, he should be more apt to contribute immediately than he otherwise would.
"Oh, it's huge. It's a huge advantage for us and of course for him to have all that time," said Kaufusi. "It is so hard for guys to come in right away and adjust to not just playing at a higher level, but with everything else. Fortunately we had Eathyn Manumaleuna last year who could do it, but this year Tevita won't have to do that. He'll report to fall camp having hopefully made that adjustment and ready to compete at a higher level than he is this spring. It's huge."
Hola has also reported to the team in good shape. Usually incoming defensive lineman struggle mightily with the rigorous drills run during practice. Two weeks in, Hola looks to be in great shape relative to the usual standard for incoming defensive linemen.
"I don't know about that, you should have seen me the first couple of days," said Hola with a laugh when asked about his being in good shape. "This week though I feel much more able to keep up with everything we're doing. So yeah, I'm getting it."
So far, Kaufusi likes what he's seen from Hola after seven practice sessions.
"He's going to be alright, he's going to help us," said Kaufusi about Hola. "He's obviously behind the other guys right now, but he's catching up every day. He's farther along than most guys having come from junior college, and he's coachable. He's really shown me a desire to learn and to get things right, so yeah, I like what I've seen from him."
Packing the Pounds
One player viewed as sort of a tweener in prior years that has worked hard to look more and more like a nose tackle is Mosese Foketi. Foketi reported to camp weighing in at 290 pounds, which should allow him to compete that much better at the nose tackle position.
"Yeah, I guess I got a little fat," said a laughing Foketi about his increased weight. "But seriously, I've been able to keep on weight. I've been hitting the weights hard too and I've gained about 10-15 pounds, which should help me a lot."
Foketi has seen time at both the nose tackle and defensive end positions in the past and was used mostly last season to rush the quarterback on passing downs from the middle line position. Having done that effectively, Foketi's focus is on defending the run better this spring.
"Coaches told me that they'd like to see me do better against the run after last year, so that's my focus," said Foketi. "I've hit the weights and I feel that I'm standing up guys better and not letting them push me around as much."
"Mosese is talented and he has a lot of potential," added Kaufusi. "This spring I've noticed that he's a lot more confident. He knows a lot better what he needs to do with every play."
Kaufusi mentioned that he plans on using Foketi in a variety of roles this season from both the nose tackle and defensive end positions.
"We're probably going to move him around some," said Kaufusi. "With him knowing the defense so much better, we can use him outside a bit in certain situations. When you look at the end positions right now, we're a little thin and we‘ll have a lot of options at nose tackle, so Mosese could really help us at the end."
Converted offensive lineman Rick Wolfley is seeing the most reps currently with the 1s as he looks to lead the rotation into the fall.
"Rick Wolfley is doing great," said Kaufusi. "He's a smart kid and he knows now that his key is to slim down and lose some weight and get where he's a little more agile and can move around a bit quicker. But right now I like his attitude. He's ready to work every day and he's learning."
Supplementing Potential Losses
Russell Tialavea was looking great last fall as he looked to lead the nose tackle rotation before sustaining his ACL injury. Tialavea is doing his best to recover in time for the season, but if he can't go, Kaufusi is becoming more and more comfortable with the guys he will have to rotate in the middle this fall.
"I can definitely see an effective rotation with the three guys we have running at nose tackle," said Kaufusi. "I'll use as many guys as I need to since the position is so demanding. Russell was more able than most when he was healthy to get a lot of reps, but I don't know yet how able the guys I have now will be."
What Kaufusi does know is that all three have shown enough effort and hard work to indicate that nose tackle will be a solid position even if Tialavea isn't able to return in time for the season.
"They're all very willing to learn the things they need to," said Kaufusi. "They've been ready to compete and learn each day and I think we're going to be okay."
-Wide receiver Spencer Hafoka saw a lot of reps with the 1s during 11-on-11 drills as he looks to move up the depth chart.
-During 11-on-11 drills, neither Brendan Gaskins or Kurt McCuen were able to complete passes against the first- or second-team defensive units.
-Max Hall led two drives toward the end zone, going 5-of-8 for 35 yards on his first set and then 8-of-9 during his second set. Dennis Pitta caught three passes during the first set for 26 yards, while Fui Vakapuna grabbed three of his own during the second set for 18 yards. Manase Tonga had two receptions during the second set for seven yards. On one of Tonga's receptions, he avoided contact on his way to the end zone, although the play was whistled dead.