Saturday, Aug. 7, 2010 | 2:05 a.m.
Starr Fuimaono admits his UNLV football career at times hasn’t gone as planned.
However, the sixth-year senior linebacker is also quick to point out that his tenure with the Rebels still has one more chapter left in it.
When the UNLV team takes the field Saturday morning at Rebel Park for its first practice of the summer, Fuimaono will do so with extra motivation. He’s out for redemption.
First, he wants to play a full season without being injured. By staying healthy, he knows the double-digit tackle performances that often seem so effortless will be an every game occurrence.
And by filling up the stat sheet, he will accomplish one of his primary goals: helping the new UNLV coaching staff get off to a positive start.
“I’m healthy and ready to go,” said Fuimaono, who has been moved from outside to inside linebacker. “I’m all the way back. I’m sincerely ready to set a good example for those new players coming in.”
Fuimaono has 178 tackles in 32 career games and has arguably been the team’s top defender for parts of his career. But he’s endured three surgeries, one on his shoulder and two on his knee, that have hindered his development.
The low point came in the second game of the 2008 season against Utah. He had 14 tackles in the season opener against Utah State, but suffered a devastating season-ending left knee injury the following week.
The previous year, a season-ending shoulder injury required surgery and forced him to miss the final three games.
Sitting and watching was a tough. He’s the ultimate competitor and wanted to be on the field helping his teammates. He also missed spring practice this year with a hamstring injury.
“They were both really freak injuries,” Fuimaono said. “I just had to keep fighting and work through it. You can’t let yourself get down”
Fuimaono knows the sixth year of eligibility he was granted by the NCAA is rare. For all of the pain and suffering he’s been through, it would be sweet justice to go out a winner. UNLV hasn’t had a winning season or played in a bowl game since 2000 — a streak Fuimaono would love to help break.
His quickness, natural instincts and ability to seek out the ball carrier have translated into successes. He was the Rebels’ third leading tackler last year with 67 tackles, including 4.5 for loss. He was also third in tackles in 2007 despite missing the final three games after hurting his shoulder.
Fuimaono won’t be thinking about the injuries once the first practice whistle blows. Rather, he plans on cherishing his final go-round in college football.
“I’m going to block everything out and play football,” he said. “I’ve been waiting for this (summer practices) to get started so I can prove myself to the new coaches.”
Fuimaono, who despite the injuries is a third-team preseason All Mountain West Conference selection by Phil Steele’s preview magazine, hopes a solid performance this year could lead to a look by a professional team.
If not, he’s already graduated with a degree in university studies and has aspirations to become a fire fighter. He’s even received his CPR certification in preparation for his post-football career.
But, before he goes rushing into fires, he’s has some unfinished business — namely the Sept. 4 season opener against Wisconsin.
Fuimaono was on the field for UNLV’s defensive breakdown against Wisconsin three years ago, when the Rebels surrendered the lead in the final minutes of a 20-13 defeat. Seven games later, he injured his shoulder as the Rebels finished with a 2-10 record.
In addition to Wisconsin, the Rebels’ schedule includes three teams — TCU, West Virginia and Utah — which are part of the USA Today preseason coaches poll that was released Friday.
“If you are a player, this is the type of schedule you want,” he said. “This is how you make a name for yourself.”
Or in Fuimaono’s case, write the final chapter in his up-and-down career.