Sometimes a change of scenery can spark a relationship gone stale.
In Kaniela Tuipulotu’s case, a return to the familiar rekindled his passion for football.
“Now that I’m back here, I’m back in love with the game again,” Tuipulotu said.
Tuipulotu was on the move quite a bit during his high school and college careers before settling in with the Hawaii program. Now entering his third year with the Warriors, Tuipulotu has provided a sturdy presence on UH’s defensive front while drawing energy from his return to the islands.
Tuipulotu earned second-team All-Western Athletic Conference honors in his first season with the Warriors and returns for his senior year as part of a deep and seasoned group of defensive tackles.
“It’s one thing to have depth and it’s another thing to have quality depth and I think that’s what we have this year,” UH defensive line coach Tony Tuioti said. “A lot of it comes from the older guys teaching the younger guys and being good examples for them.”
Tuipulotu grew up in Lahaina and emerged as a highly regarded prospect while attending Kahuku High School. He signed with Arizona and earned playing time early in his career. But his verve for the game withered during his stay in Tucson.
“I kind of took it as a job,” Tuipulotu said. “I didn’t want to be there for workouts, I wished I was at home.”
So he requested a transfer to Hawaii and the mandated year off allowed some bothersome injuries to heal. When he resumed playing last season, Tuipulotu started 13 of the Warriors’ 14 games, recorded 34 tackles, including one sack, and knocked down three passes.
“It felt real good to be able to show people whatever hype I got wasn’t just nothing,” Tuipulotu said. “I was able to back it up, just come out here and play hard and have fun in front of the fans and the people I know and love.”
The top two levels of the depth chart at defensive tackle return this season with Tuipulotu and fellow senior Vaughn Meatoga leading the group.
“It’s great because you know what everyone is going to do, you’re confident in everyone doing their job,” Tuipulotu said. “I’m more worried about myself to make sure I do my job.”
Tuipulotu is considered an NFL prospect, and a productive senior season would certainly enhance his stock. But he’s not giving his next move much thought just yet.
“It’s there, but I’m just focusing on right now,” Tuipulotu said. “I want to do my part to get this team to as high a point as possible and hopefully win another conference title.”
IN THE TRENCHES
Hawaii’s depth at defensive tackle could spill over to the end spots.
The Warriors return five tackles who saw significant playing time last year, but are thinner at defensive end. Zach Masch, part of the five-man rotation at tackle as a junior, was listed as a starter at left defensive end after fall camp.
Seniors Vaughn Meatoga and Kaniela Tuipulotu and juniors Haku Correa and Geordon Hanohano return in the interior line.
Paipai Falemalu has now settled in at defensive end after dabbling at outside linebacker early last season and was third on the team with 61⁄2 tackles for loss.
Junior college transfer Craig Cofer, a 6-foot-5 sophomore, could break into the rotation at defensive end.