FALL CAMP DAY 18: Ahmu or Olson in for Pitoitua?

IT WAS EXPECTED that Fevaea'i Ahmu was going to start at some point over his Cougar career, but that timeframe might have been moved up significantly. Either Ahmu or Bryan Olson is expected to get the nod less than a week from today with starter Ropati Pitoitua sidelined for 6-8 weeks with a broken leg suffered during Thursday's practice.

Ropati Pitoitua fractured his right fibula, a non-weight bearing bone above the ankle, according to head trainer Bill Drake. Pitoitua had surgery late Friday morning at Pullman Regional Hospital.

The harsh news is somewhat softened by a favorable early schedule and the emergence of true freshman Fevaea'i Ahmu.

Doba said he expected either senior Bryan Olson or Ahmu to assume the starting role and that several other tackles will see increased playing time until Pitoitua returns to the field. Among them will be junior Odell Howard and second year tackle Matt Eichelberger.

Ahmu on Wednesday was playing in front of Howard on the second-string defensive line. With Pitoitua out yesterday, Ahmu worked with the first-string defense.

Starting end Mkristo Bruce had some lofty words for Ahmu, telling Cougfan.com; "He's going to be a Cougar legend. I can't wait until he gets to play, and he will play this year."

Ahmu was one of WSU's biggest recruiting gets this past February, with his prep coach at San Diego's Serra High saying the 6-1, 284 pound wrecking ball had plenty of choices. "He could have gone pretty much anywhere in the country," says Brian Basteyns. "Everyone in the Pac-10 was interested, as well as schools like Notre Dame and others."

"Fevaea'i Ahmu was a really good find," said Doba on Signing Day. "He will develop and could play next year. He is a great kid and comes from a great family."

Ahmu has looked particularly good this camp, and it was a foregone conclusion he would be getting significant turns this season rather than redshirting.

Last season, Pitoitua went down with a left high ankle sprain in Week 2, and missed the next three weeks. He then spent most of the season at less than 100 percent, unable to resume his starting role until the second to last game of the season.

Pitoitua, along with Aaron Johnson, had gained about 20 pounds this offseason and was expected to be part of a stout defensive front for the Cougs, one that had coach Bill Doba smiling this fall camp.

"(Johnson) and (Pitoitua) can really make a big difference," Doba said after the first scrimmage. "That front four is going to be pretty good."

Ahmu was a three-year varsity standout at Sierra High, as well as an all-academic pick. Among his considerable highlights on the gridiron, during his junior season he racked up 100 tackles and 10 sacks, piling up double-digit tackles in five games, including a season-high 18 against Point Loma -- a surreal number for an interior defensive lineman at any level.

As a senior, he recorded 75 tackles and 12 sacks, recovered a fumble and had seven or more tackles in eight of 10 games and at least one sack in seven of 10 games.

Olson has played sparingly on the offensive and defense lines over his WSU career. The 6-3, 277-pounder has seen action in three games and lost his entire sophomore campaign to injury. He's shown good technique and production in both the spring and fall camps.

Howard, a redshirt junior has 16 games of experience over his Cougar career. His two career starts came last season, against Idaho and Arizona.

Eichelberger redshirted last season. He came into this year's camp in noticeably better shape and has performed well.

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