Rebels lean on leaner Tevaseu

Lining up against No. 15 Arizona State wasn’t in the plans of defensive tackle Martin Tevaseu.

He signed with the Sun Devils in 2006 as a three-star recruit, but a major leg injury in training camp that year ended his days in Tempe before they began.

Tevaseu redshirted, but he was so down about the injury that he turned to food and fell out of love with football.

He returned to the Bay Area after the season and to Santa Rosa (Calif.) Junior College, deciding to give football one more try.

He recaptured the love for the sport, lost 100 pounds and found a new home. Tevaseu will be back at Sun Devil Stadium at 7 p.m. Saturday, but he will take the field for UNLV.

"It’s going to be fun, and it’s going to be intense," Tevaseu said. "I know about half the team."

It has been an amazing journey for Tevaseu, who was so distraught over getting hurt that he stopped attending practices and meetings, choosing instead to spend most of his time at home. He eventually ballooned to 430 pounds and didn’t know if he wanted to play football again.

Tevaseu was lured back to Santa Rosa, where he played as a freshman before signing with Arizona State. His love for the game might have returned, but he knew no major college program would take him without a crash diet.

Tevaseu did what he had to, losing 100 pounds from December to June.

It was too late to get much attention before the February signing period, but he arranged several workouts, and interest began to pick up.

"The recruiting process for me started late," Tevaseu said. "They didn’t find out about me until late. That’s because I didn’t lose the weight until that time."

In addition to UNLV, San Diego State and Kansas offered him chances to walk on and possibly earn a scholarship.

Rebels tailback Frank Summers talked to Tevaseu, his second cousin, in late spring about UNLV.

"I wanted to talk to him and make sure he had his head on right and he wanted to come in and he was going to be a positive contributor to the program," Summers said. "When I talked to him, he said all the right things to me, and he was really working hard.

"He said he had lost 50, 60 pounds already. For anybody to lose that, hell, I was trying to lose 10 pounds this summer, and it seemed like losing my life out of this world."

If Tevaseu had to sell himself to UNLV, the Rebels didn’t have to make the same pitch.

"The day I talked to him and told him we may be a little interested, he said that if we were interested he would come," Summers said. "He said he wanted a new start."

Now at 320 pounds on his 6-foot-3-inch frame, Tevaseu will start his third consecutive game in place of Jacob Hales, who is receiving limited playing time because of a dislocated left elbow.

Tevaseu, who has earned a scholarship, hasn’t played like a fill-in. He even graded out as a champion in Saturday’s 42-21 loss at Utah.

Defensive coordinator Dennis Therrell said Tevaseu has picked up the system quicker than the other newcomers.

"He’s been well-coached before," Therrell said. "He understands the work ethic of learning football, learning his assignments and executing."

Now there’s the matter of that game Saturday and the chance to see old friends.

Tevaseu’s determination to play well is clear in his voice.

"This game," he said, "means a lot to me."

PILI’S STATUS UNCERTAIN — UNLV coach Mike Sanford said Thursday a game-day decision will be made on whether starting defensive end Thor Pili will play.

Pili has an upper respiratory infection and has been tested for mononucleosis. If he doesn’t play, the Rebels will go with Preston Brooks and Heivaha Mafi.

Contact reporter Mark Anderson at manderson@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2914.

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