Faatagi Making Impression

Erick Faatagi's first two seasons at Colorado were marked by injury and ineligibility. With both issues — for now — in control, his significant abilities are starting to show up on the football field.

Erick Faatagi came to CU out of shape back in 2006. He promptly blew out a knee and spent the first fall and spring rehabilitating it. By the time he was medically able to play, he had fallen behind in the classroom. He spent 2007 on the bench because of bad grades.

The 2008 season will be Faatagi's last chance at playing Division I football. In his fifth year of eligibility, Faatagi's knee is healthier than it's been since the surgery, and he worked his way into being academically eligible this spring.

He's been working the first portion of CU's spring practices, but has had to leave most practices early to make an evening class he's taking. When he's been on the field, he's impressed line coach Jeff Grimes.

"He's looked very good," Grimes said after Thursday's practice. "More than anything with Erick, and he knows this, he needs to get it done in the classroom."

Faatagi will need to make grades this spring and during the summer that will keep his cumulative GPA at or above the 2.0 required by the NCAA for student athletes to stay eligible.

If he makes the grade, he's got a great chance of making the starting lineup in the fall.

"He's got all the tools to be a great offensive guard," Grimes said. "He's got an unbelievable amount of natural ability. He's one of those guys that has all the natural strength that you're looking for. And he can run. He's a great combination of strength and power."

Faatagi, who played two years at El Camino College in southern California before transferring to CU, is competing with veteran Devin Head and a handful of redshirt freshmen — Matt Bahr, Blake Behrens and Mike Iltis — at guard this spring. Faatagi has no evening class on Fridays this semester, so he'll be able to participate in all of Friday's practice. And fans can get a look at the 6-2, 310-pounder in CU's scrimmage on Saturday.

"He has the right kind of mindset for a lineman – he wants to hurt people," Grimes said. "And he's got the ability to back it up. He's just got to learn how to play because he's gotten so few reps since he's been here.

"It'll be hard to keep him out of the starting lineup if he's eligible (in the fall). That doesn't mean he will start for certain — he's still got to learn a lot. But he's so talented, he'd be right at the top of the list."

Nate Solder continues to get most of the No. 1-team reps at offensive tackle opposite Ryan Miller. Jeff Grimes is giving him lots of individual attention, trying to coach him up at the position. The biggest thing, though, will be how much weight and strength he can put on during the summer. If he can get to a solid 290 pounds by August, and maintain that weight, he may be tough to beat out of one of the tackle spots.

Solder, Miller, Sione Tau, Ethan Adkins and David Clark are still practicing at both right and left tackle.

• A handful of players have missed a handful of practices this spring. They include Taj Kaynor, Mike Sipili and Marcus Burton. Sipili and Burton missed last season for various reasons, and could use the reps. Dan Hawkins said they are in "the mentoring program." He admitted missing practice hurts them as far as football, but said in the long run it's in the players' best interest. It appears the mentoring program has much to do with helping them stay on track in the classroom.

• The Air Force Academy football staff was at CU's practice Thursday in observational mode. CU's staff had paid a visit to the Falcons program in the past, and it was AFA's turn to come absorb some things.

• Thursday's practice was a full-contact affair. The running backs had success up the middle against the defense, which was missing Sipili and Burton. …OLB Nate Vaiomounga, though, had the biggest hit of the day when he sent tailback Kevin Lockridge backwards on a run. …Matt Ballenger threw a beautiful looking long ball to Patrick Williams, who hauled it in. …Demetrius Sumler found a seam, bounced to the outside and wove his way for a long gain on one play, as well.

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