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."


Lolomana Mikaele's 6-foot-2-inch, 302-pound body is topped by a mane of shoulder-length, wavy black hair. He smiles early and often, revealing a gold tooth.

And yet, the hulking Mikaele, a football player out of central casting, said he's rarely noticed around campus.

"Nuh-uh," he says, shaking his head. "That's fine. I don't need any recognition. Really, I don't need it."

Mikaele's days of flying under the radar may be over.

The Wildcats senior defensive tackle was voted a team captain by his teammates Tuesday, an unexpected honor for one of the team's quietest players.

Throughout the season, the Honolulu native will join quarterback Nick Foles, defensive end Brooks Reed and center Colin Baxter for pre-game coin tosses and represent the team in meetings.

Mikaele, 22, said the captaincy is "a pleasure, man, and an honor."

"I voted for other people. I voted for Brooks Reed and (Ricky) Elmore," he said. "Apparently, they voted for me."

In retrospect, Mikaele's selection makes perfect sense.

Mikaele (pronounced Mee-kah-AY-lay) has played in 25 games over parts of two full seasons, registering 25 tackles and recovering a fumble. He'll open the 2010 season Friday as the team's starting nose tackle, a position previously occupied by Donald Horton. Hard-working and soft-spoken, Mikaele is the kind of player who's respected in the locker room - even if he's mostly ignored in public.

"He's the kind of guy who gets in there every day and does everything right," Baxter said. "He may not be a real vocal leader, but he leads by example."

Said defensive tackles coach Mike Tuiasosopo: "He's an experienced dude."

Mikaele's seen-but-not-heard persona is, in many ways, a byproduct of his position. Arizona's defensive tackles are essentially space-fillers. They're asked to take on one - and sometimes two - offensive linemen on each play, clearing lanes for linebackers to make tackles.

Even Earl Mitchell, a star defensive tackle in 2009 and a third-round pick in last year's NFL draft, never averaged more than four tackles a game.

Mikaele collects assists, not stats.

"It's great when I see my coaches smiling, knowing that we're doing a good job," he said. "The linebackers are congratulating us for plugging the gaps, taking on two guys so they can get the tackles."

Mikaele couldn't have envisioned a captain's role when he enrolled at the UA four years ago following a successful, if unspectacular, career at Damien Memorial High School.

On the field, Mikaele was immediately targeted for a redshirt. Off it, he struggled to adjust to life outside of his native Hawaii.

Mikaele played in all 12 games, starting one, as a redshirt freshman.

Mikaele was suspended for the entire 2008 season for an unspecified violation of team rules. Mikaele told the Star at the time that it was the result of "some team stuff, some academic stuff and some miscommunication."

He was cleared in time for the start of last season, and played in all 13 games.

Heading into his senior year, Mikaele appears ready to shoulder a starter's load. Tuiasosopo said the hulking nose tackle is "more sudden and explosive." He's taken on a leadership role, mentoring the Wildcats' younger players on scheme and technique.

Mikaele's maturity is being noticed - even if he isn't.

"He wasn't a very highly recruited kid out of high school, but there was something we saw and we liked," Tuiasosopo said. "And here he is. He's a senior, and he's a captain."