Rebels football:

Liberty grad returns to Las Vegas to battle for playing time on UNLV’s defense

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Sam Morris

Liberty High School football players Senituli Fakauho, Ty Byrd and Sam Tai.

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Liberty High School football player Senituli Fakauho.

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Liberty High grad Senituli Fakauho left Las Vegas two years ago for junior college in Kansas. This summer the defensive lineman returned 50 pounds lighter with the goal of getting on the field in front of his hometown friends and family.

Fakauho played offensive line for the Patriots but he went to Coffeyville Community College with the plan of moving over to the defensive line. It was his first trip to Kansas, which he felt was a better fit than the junior colleges he was looking at in California. It also helped open his worldview.

“I met a lot of people from other ethnicities,” Fakauho said after Thursday’s practice at Rebel Park.

Then listed at 6-foot-1 and 350 pounds, Fakauho dropped about 50 pounds before his second season in Kansas. The result was a much quicker version of himself who was able to jump off the line at the snap better than he previously could.

Last season Fakauho played in eight of 10 games at nose tackle, recording 16 tackles, including two for loss, and a fumble recovery. For a position that doesn’t rack up a lot of stats it was a decent output, and the performance he put on film was enough to convince UNLV coach Bobby Hauck to do something he didn’t really want to do.

“We had decided we weren’t going to take another guy (at that position),” Hauck said. “Then when we watched him on tape he’s got great size, he’s got great quickness and for a big guy he’s a good athlete. We figured he’s a hometown guy and we couldn’t afford to tell him no. He was a great player at Coffeyville and had good film.”

Fakauho started getting homesick toward the end of his Coffeyville tenure so he called Liberty coach Rich Muraco. Muraco then put Fakauho in touch with Hauck’s staff, and a day after sending in his tape Fakauho got a call inviting him to walk-on to the team.

Fakauho came back to Las Vegas in May and worked out on his own all summer because he wasn’t officially a member of the team. He reported for camp with the rest of the team and after only a few days of camp and a couple of practices, Fakauho earned a scholarship after Hauck originally didn’t think the Rebels even had room for him.

“One of the things I’ve watched in him particularly these first couple of days is to see how he’s done with the conditioning aspect of it, because when we first got here we had a couple of guys who were so overweight they couldn’t keep up in practice. That hasn’t been the case with Tuli,” Hauck said. “He’s got his weight down where it needs to be. He does look good finishing … I think that shows he’s taking care of business.”

Getting the scholarship was a big hurdle but Fakauho still has a ways to go to get on the field. The Rebels return both defensive tackles in Del Sol High grad Alex Klorman (6-2, 285 pounds) and Mark Garrick (6-4, 280).

Those guys are taller and more athletic than Fakauho, as are several of the backups he’s competing with for potential playing time. As much weight as Fakauho has already dropped, he still needs more speed.

“The tempo is a lot faster. Drills are a lot faster,” Fakauho said of Division I practices. “I’m trying my best to keep up with them and learning from the other guys.”

That’s the challenge ahead. So far Fakauho has done well with the challenges now behind him. He’s in better shape, he’s earned a spot on the team and with some more work he can be out on the field helping the Rebels.

“I’m really excited to be D-I,” Fakauho said, “especially back at home to see my family and all my friends can come to see me play.”

Taylor Bern can be reached at 948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Taylor on Twitter at twitter.com/taylorbern.

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