Tuipulotu wins starting job for Hawaii

September 1, 2010, 7:58 AM HST · Updated September 1, 7:58 AM
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By Fred Guzman

Hard work, good health and an improved diet enabled Kaniela Tuipulotu to win a starting job at defensive tackle for the University of Hawaii going into Thursday’s football season-opener against 14th-ranked Southern California.

The former all-state player at Kahuku High actually began his prep career at Lahainaluna, making him one of only two athletes on the UH roster to have ties with the Valley Isle. The other is junior offensive lineman Andrew Faaumu, who attended Lahainaluna.

Tuipulotu sat out last season, per NCAA transfer rules, after leaving Arizona, where he saw part-time duty as a freshman and sophomore. A lingering shoulder injury affected his playing time with the Wildcats.

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He underwent surgery to repair his shoulder. While recuperating, Tuipulotu’s weight ballooned to 320. But he’s shed 30 pounds over the past four months, which has helped increase his quickness and stamina.

Loading up on fruits and staying away from white rice were key factors in his weight loss. As a result, Kaniela, who entered fall camp second on the depth chart, beat out Hoku Correa for the starting job.

Brett Leonard was likely starter at center, but intead will undergo arthroscopic knee surgery this week and miss the first three games of the season. Damien Memorial grad Bronson Tiwanak will start against the Trojans. London Sapolu, son of former UH and San Francisco 49ers star Jesse Sapolu, will be the top backup.

UH has lost 2 centers to injuries in the past 3 months. In the final quarter of a scrimmage marking the end of spring drills, junior Matagisila Lefiti injured to his right foot. He underwent surgery, and only recently resumed light training. Lefiti also will miss at least the first three games — USC at Aloha Stadium, and Army and Colorado on the road in consecutive weekends. Leonard suffered his injury during a one-on-one drill. Tiwanak was UH quarterback Bryant Moniz’s center when both played for Fresno CC in 2007.

CAPTAINS: In voting by the players, defensive tackle Vaughn Meatoga, slotback Greg Salas and linebacker Corey Paredes were selected as captains for the 2010 season. Salas is a senior, and Meatoga and Paredes are juniors.

UH NOTES: UH officials are anticipating a crowd in the 43,000 to 45,000 range at 50,000-seat Aloha Stadium for the USC game. With Hawaii playing both Boise State and Fresno State on the road, this year’s home schedule is lacking in marquee opponents. Other home games are against Charleston Southern, Louisiana Tech, Nevada, Idaho, San Jose and the regular-season finale against UNLV.

Hawaii is coming off a 6-7 record and needs to register seven wins in order to secure a berth in the Hawaii Bowl. A victory over the Trojans would be a first for UH, which has lost all six previous meetings by an average score of 49-11.

For the first time in his USC career, Marc Tyler will start at tailback, displacing the power-running Allen Bradford. Tyler is the son of former UCLA and NFL running back Wendell Tyler. He’s a fourth-year junior who has struggled with injuries and to regain the form that made high a highly-recruited star coming out of Oaks Christian High.

The mostly highly touted recruit in USC’s freshman class will not make the trip to Hawaii. Dillon Baxter was suspended for the game by head coach Lane Kiffin for violating unspecified team rules.

Versatile sophomore Devon Kennard will start at middle linebacker. The 6-3, 240-pounder beat out junior Chris Galippo, who started every game last season.

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