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Rebels’ Fuimaono finds role

Sometimes a series of events can come together to help a program such as UNLV — still searching for its place in the football world — land a player who typically would play in a major conference.

In Starr Fuimaono’s case, a number of factors led him away from the Pacific-10 Conference to the Rebels.

A serious knee injury got him thinking that he might prefer to be a defensive player over a running back, which is what Washington wanted him to play. He also faced questions about whether he would qualify academically.

The Huskies made a late recruiting push, but the Rebels’ perseverance was rewarded, as Fuimaono signed last year.

Of course, it didn’t hurt that Fuimaono’s brother, Howie, was a starting defensive tackle for UNLV.

“I mostly came because of my brother, but then when I came during the season, I found out it wasn’t that bad,” Fuimaono said. “I liked the coaching staff a lot. They made me feel comfortable. I just felt real comfortable around the teammates and everybody here.

“(UNLV) showed a lot of interest. They kept calling me. So that played a big role in why I came here, too.”

It was quite a coup for UNLV. Fuimaono, who also received scholarship offers from Brigham Young and UNR, was a 1,000-yard rusher and an all-conference and all-league selection at defensive back at Bonita Vista High School in Chula Vista, Calif.

Fuimaono played immediately for the Rebels last season and did not disappoint. Now Fuimaono (5 feet 11 inches, 210 pounds) is listed as the starter at the Rebel position, a hybrid of safety and linebacker.

“He’s a guy that can do both,” coach Mike Sanford said. “He’s gotten bigger, stronger and more physical, so he can be a linebacker that plays over a tight end. But he also can be a guy in pass coverage that covers the guy man-to-man or plays a zone area.”

Fuimaono said the position appeals to him “because it shows my versatility. I just need to get used to a couple of things, but right now, I like this position. It suits me.”

Fuimaono’s main competition at Rebel is junior KC Asiodu (6-3, 240), who returned to practice Monday after sitting out because of a suspension and hip surgery. Asiodu’s name was linked by police to the Abercrombie & Fitch theft investigation, but he wasn’t charged in the case.

Though Asiodu started six games last season, Fuimaono showed plenty of potential in limited time. Fuimaono’s 29 tackles were just six behind Asiodu, and he broke up two passes and forced a fumble.

“I think it built him confidence,” Sanford said. “He’s just more comfortable. The thing about him, he has really, really good football instincts. He’s improved as a football player from last year to this year already, and I expect him to improve more between now and the start of the season.”

• NOTES — Senior defensive tackle Faauo Faga, who went to Indian Springs High, faces six to eight weeks of rehabilitation after breaking his right foot. … Junior wide receiver Justin Marvel has sprained shoulders. … A full scrimmage takes place at 4:30 p.m. Friday at Rebel Park. A barbecue for alumni will follow. … Men’s basketball coach Lon Kruger spoke to the team before Wednesday’s practice. “There are so many parallels between football and basketball, it’s unbelievable,” Sanford said. “It’s a great thing for our team, and they gave him a standing ovation.” … Sanford said after viewing videotape from Friday’s scrimmage he was particularly impressed with redshirt freshman quarterback Travis Dixon, senior wide receiver Aaron Straiten, junior defensive tackle Jacob Hales of Las Vegas High and senior linebacker Beau Bell.

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