Rich Rodriguez hasn't been too thrilled with the team's effort this spring. "I've been too nice," he said. "I have nobody to blame but myself."


Freshman Sani Fuimaono spent the last two weeks battling players from Stanford and Oregon, tiring work for even the most experienced Arizona Wildcats football player.

"Physically, I'm pretty sore," he said. "The game at this level is very quick, and the intensity is pretty high."

But the rewards are worth it.

Injuries and inconsistency have forced Fuimaono, a defensive tackle from Kaneohe, Hawaii, into the Arizona Wildcats' lineup earlier than expected.He made his first career start against Stanford two games ago and played with the first team again in last weekend's loss to Oregon. He has registered three tackles, including one tackle-for-loss, so far this season.

Fuimaono, 19, will likely start again for the ineffective Justin Washington when the Wildcats travel to USC on Saturday.

The playing time has "definitely been a great experience," Fuimaono said this week.

"It was a great blessing just to get on the field as quickly as I did," he said. "Coach has been able to get me on the field, get the reps going and get me some experience."

For a while, the 6-foot-2-inch, 306-pound Fuimaono wondered if he'd ever make it to the UA. He signed with the Wildcats in February 2010 out of Honolulu's Punahou High School, President Obama's alma mater.

Two weeks later, the lineman suffered a ruptured triceps in his right arm at wrestling practice. Surgeons reattached his triceps in a five-hour surgery and set a rehabilitation schedule.

Fuimaono traveled to Tucson but wasn't here long. Arizona coaches suggested that he grayshirt, delaying his enrollment by a semester in order to start his eligibility "clock" by a year. He reluctantly agreed and moved home to Hawaii for six months.

In retrospect, Fuimaono said, the grayshirt was for the best.

"Definitely," he said. "I've grown a lot. … I feel stronger and more confident this year."

He's bigger, too. Fuimaono gained about 30 pounds during his time away and has impressed coaches in the weight room. A star wrestler in high school, Fuimaono possesses quick hands and a willingness to tussle with offensive linemen.

Defensive tackles coach Joe Salave'a said Fuimaono's ahead of schedule, which - given the Wildcats' struggles on the line - is a good thing.

"He took a year off. He had a big injury. It's not like he was training for this moment," Salave'a said. "He's got to make progress. That's the only thing we ask from him, to get better. We don't have the luxury time at all."

Fuimaono, however, says he doesn't feel rushed. Just a bit sore.

"Whatever opportunity, whatever door opens, I'll take it," he said.


Up next

• What: Arizona at USC

• When: 12:30 p.m. Saturday

• TV; radio: FSAZ; 1290-AM, 107.5-FM

Joe Tofflemire, UA great and three-time all conference lineman, dies at 46

Joe Tofflemire, a first-team All-Pac-10 center at Arizona in 1986, 1987 and 1988, died Tuesday in Post Falls, Idaho. He was 46.

Tofflemire was found unconscious and unresponsive in his home, according to family reports on Facebook. He later died in a Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, hospital.

Tofflemire was the UA's 1988 football team's Most Valuable Player and the 1988 winner of the Pac-10 Morris Trophy, emblematic of the league's top offensive lineman; both Playboy and College Football News named him to their All-America teams.

Tofflemire was selected in the second round of the 1989 NFL draft by the Seattle Seahawks and played for that team from 1989 to 1994, appearing in 36 games. He started all 16 games in 1992.

Tofflemire was inducted in the UA athletics Hall of Fame in 1994 and often attended games when the Wildcats visited the Pacific Northwest.

Greg Hansen