Xavier Su’A-Filo missed the action. He missed the feeling of a helmet on a helmet, crashing together, that momentary burst of senses. He missed the grass and the sweat and the locker room.
He did not miss the soreness.
He stood on Tuesday afternoon, bent at the waist, his feet hurting, his back hurting, his legs hurting, everything hurting.
And he loved every minute of it.
The sophomore offensive tackle, who returned from his LDS mission earlier this year after missing two seasons, is back entrenched at left tackle, protecting the blind side. Two days into his first spring practice, he looks like he hasn’t skipped a day.
“I missed just playing, man,” Su’a-Filo said. “Not anything in particular. I love the physicality, I love the camaradarie, I love the competition, but I think just seeing plays work, working as a unit on offense. And seeing big runs and passes, stuff like that.”
As much as Su’a-Filo missed the Bruins, the Bruins missed him much, much more.
His left tackle spot lay vacant for two years, emptier than a playground after recess, filled in but not really. With Su’A-Filo starting from Day 1 in 2009 at left tackle after coming in as the Bruins’ top offensive line recruit in a decade, UCLA was safe, secure, comforted. With him gone, Kevin Prince and Co. had to run for their lives.
“The best year we’ve had since I’ve been here was the one year he was here,” said Prince, who shares Su’a-Filo’s faith and said he considers him a role model. “That one year. I’m not saying him leaving is the only reason we lost games, but it definitely didn’t help.
“Having him at left tackle the last few years definitely would’ve won us a few more games.”
Su’a-Filo instantly slid back into his trusty role, joining redshirt senior Jeff Baca as the elder statesman of a largely inexperienced unit. His maturity and level-headedness has been an important re-addition to a group now headed by new offensive line coach Adrian Klemm.
“It means everything,” Klemm said of Su’a-Filo’s return. “He’s a mature kid – not only is he a talented kid on the field, but he’s a kid with strong character. Surprisingly, he’s been gone for two years, but he’s right up there with Baca as our best linemen.”