ONE RUGGED REBEL


Because of split-squad practices, UNLV senior kicker Sergio Aguayo worked out with his group Saturday morning, and those players returned to watch their teammates during the evening session.

But Aguayo had other work to do. To fulfill his duty to his team and to work on a school assignment due Wednesday, he sat in the training tent typing on his laptop.

No matter what, Aguayo is going to stick to his commitments. He was never harder pressed to do that than last year when a major knee injury to his left (kicking) leg in the first game threatened to end his season nearly before it began.

But Aguayo -- putting the lie to stereotypes about kickers lacking football toughness -- played most of the season with a torn anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligament and partial tear of his lateral meniscus.

"We were able to use a kicker as an example of toughness, which you normally don't get to use," coach Mike Sanford said. "That goes a long way."

Aguayo's teammates certainly noticed.

He already was a well-liked and respected player after making 12 of 16 field goals in 2005, including game-winners in both UNLV victories. Statistics almost didn't matter last season after the injury. The mere fact Aguayo that was on the practice and playing fields told his teammates all they needed to know.

"I remember in the locker room, guys were like, 'Man, that's the ultimate commitment,' " senior linebacker Beau Bell said. "With an injury like that, most guys wouldn't have been doing anything. We knew he was in pain the whole time."

Aguayo never seriously considered not playing. He could have undergone surgery on his ACL and waited for this season, but Aguayo chose to postpone the operation while rehabilitating the MCL. Sanford said there was no concern of further injuring the knee.

Because the injury occurred to his kicking leg, Aguayo didn't have to worry about putting weight on the knee. He just couldn't cut, so kickoff duties were taken away.

After a two-game absence, Aguayo returned to the field and finished out the season.

"I thought about my team first," Aguayo said. "As far as being out there, it was pretty simple."

Aguayo kicked remarkably well considering the injury.

After his return, he made 7 of 15 field-goal attempts, including a 52-yarder against Texas Christian., and 12 of 14 extra points. His stats would have been much better if not for an off night at San Diego State when he missed all five field goals, two from at least 52 yards.

Aguayo responded by making a 42-yarder the following week against Wyoming and a 21-yarder in the finale against Air Force.

Aguayo (6 feet 1 inch, 200 pounds) underwent surgery in December, and said he is completely healed. But the true test will come in the season opener Aug. 30 at Utah State.

He has taken a major step by discarding the knee brace he played with last season.

"It was kind of scary the first couple of days, but it's all mental when you come back from things," Aguayo said.

 

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