It’s been quite a journey for Tueni Lupeamanu, who’s evolved from a high school quarterback in Utah into a defensive lineman for the Idaho Vandals.
“Thinking back from where we came from and where we are now, especially for me, individually, there’s a night and day difference,” he said.
Lupeamanu, who also played linebacker and punted at Herriman High, was unsure of his role when he joined Idaho in 2013.
“I just knew I wanted to play somewhere on defense,” he said. “So when coach (Paul) Petrino said he wanted me to try defensive line, he told me I had to get bigger. Ever since then, that’s what I’ve been trying to do.”
Lupeamanu quickly learned that his transition to the defensive line was about more than just gaining weight. The senior is listed at 299 pounds but said he is playing at closer to 275.
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“I’m a decent athlete, so I thought I could out-athlete everybody I played against,” he said. “But in the trenches it doesn’t work like that, and I found that out real fast.”
Lupeamanu said he’s still learning the nuances of playing defensive line, but his coach said he has become a force.
“He’s quick, he plays hard. He plays defensive tackle, and there’s been a couple of games where he’s been our leading tackler,” Petrino said. “That’s pretty unbelievable. … He’s a great player.”
Petrino said Lupeamanu does more than make plays — although he’s third on the team in tackles (48) and tackles for loss (four).
“He’s probably the leader of our team,” Petrino said. “He’s definitely the emotional leader, the vocal leader. He’s just been a pleasure to coach. … He’s one of my wife’s favorite players on the team. He’s just a great young man, and he’s going to be winner in life at anything he does.”
That might include playing in the NFL. And perhaps not as a defensive lineman.
“I think he still has a career ahead of him playing football,” Petrino said. “Some scouts have talked about him being a fullback.”
Said Lupeamanu: “When it comes to the next level, I’ll do whatever they tell me. I’m willing to do whatever my best opportunity is, whether it’s losing more or gaining more. … But the only thing I’m focused on right now is getting us to a bowl game.”
That quest continues Saturday (3 p.m., ESPN3, 630 AM), as Idaho (4-4, 2-2 Sun Belt) plays at Louisiana (3-4, 2-2). The Vandals, coming off a bye, are 5-point underdogs as they seek two more victories to become bowl eligible.
“We had a whole extra week to prepare for playing Lafayette,” Lupeamanu said. “This is our time to get our fifth win.”
Idaho finishes against the three lowest teams in the Sun Belt standings: at Texas State (2-5, 0-3) and home games against South Alabama (4-4, 1-4) and Georgia State (2-7, 1-4).
“I think if we go out there and play our hearts out and lay it on the line … in these last four games we’ll give ourselves a great opportunity to play a fifth game,” Petrino said.
Who knows? If Idaho does play a bowl game, perhaps the Vandals will send out Lupeamanu to take a snap at QB.
“I should put him back there (at quarterback) sometime,” Petrino said with a chuckle. “Maybe we’ll put in a play and let him do that.”