Tutogi discovers his niche
When he arrived on campus this summer, Arizona football player Taimi Tutogi expected a shot at contributing as a defensive lineman this fall.
He has yet to see that opportunity. However, the 6-foot-1, 250-pound freshman has not been disappointed.
Shortly after his arrival in Tucson, the Wildcat coaching staff chose to move Tutogi to the offensive side of the ball. Instead of playing on the defensive line, the freshman would begin molding himself into an H-back — a tight end/fullback hybrid who is responsible for picking up blocks, running routs and occasionally carrying the ball. In Arizona's spread offense, it's an important position.
Needless to say, a lot of work was necessary to make the transition.
""Early on (Tutogi) got his butt knocked off a few times,"" running backs/tight ends coach Seth Littrell said. ""Being a big kid like that, he came in here used to running people over and playing high. So becoming comfortable with getting under those linebackers and popping through with the hips and having that power is something he's really had to work at.""
Littrell admitted there's still a lot of work to be done as Tutogi's transformation into an offensive player continues. Aware of his continued improvement, the freshman came into the season unaware of what to expect in terms of playing time.
Despite his growing pains, the Wildcats' coaching staff was sufficiently impressed with Tutogi's progress last week to let him see numerous snaps in last Saturday's win over Northern Arizona.
""I was kind of lost in the whole playing time situation,"" Tutogi said. ""First game I didn't get any playing time at all so I was kind of worried. But the coaches got me in (against NAU) and I think I did pretty decent.""
""I just went out and did my part and did what I had practiced during the week — I think it went well.""
With how inexperienced Tutogi was at his new position early on, it was clear he would need a mentor.
Fellow H-back Chris Gronkowski filled that role. The two became inseparable during practices as Gronkowski helped show the freshman the ins and outs of the position throughout fall camp. Tutogi came to the senior with abundant questions — those better asked of a teammate rather than a coach — and Gronkowski was more than happy to lend a hand and help his new friend earn playing time.
""I just tried to help him really get that blocking down,"" Gronkowski said. ""He just had to learn how to get that shoulder down and really get that pop going and I think he's got that now.""
""He was a little nervous when he first started (last Saturday) but he came in and did what he had to do — really helped out on the goal line and got the job done every time he was in there.""
While the majority of his focus was on his blocking technique, Tutogi has also worked on becoming a better receiver and runner. The freshman dropped the first pass to come his way during Saturday's game and despite playing down his desire for more touches in the future, Tutogi is quickly improving his soft hands, according to Gronkowski.
""He's actually got great hands,"" Gronkowski said. ""He probably got a little nervous in that first game with the dropped ball, but he's been really consistent in practice and drops few balls.""
""Overall he's improved a lot, and I expect he'll be a pretty key guy for us later this season.""