Most college football players spend their summers in the weight room bulking up. Phil Tuihalamaka is slimming down.
The transfer from San Bernardino (Calif.) Community College has dropped 23 pounds since reporting a month ago to Kansas University. The 6-foot-4 defensive tackle is down to 321 pounds and hopes to start his first KU football season at 300.
"They push you. Chris Dawson's a good man," Tuihalamaka said of the Jayhawks' director of strength and conditioning. "He motivates me to keep losing weight. I thank him for that. I never had a coach who was positive with me all the way through before."
Tuihalamaka (pronounced Too-holla-ma-ka) could make an impact on KU's defensive line, provided he's not as big when the season starts Aug. 30 against Northwestern.
"He's made a lot of progress since he got here, and he's lost a lot of weight," Dawson said. "He's getting in shape. He's working at it. It's never easy. I give Phil a lot of credit because he's worked his (butt) off this summer, and he's gotten in better shape every week. He's still got a lot of work to do, but he's working at it."
The Jayhawks will run and lift weights four days a week until July 25, and Tuihalamaka said the workouts were the hardest he had experienced -- a strong statement considering he worked construction before going back to school two years ago when he was 21.
Tuihalamaka, second cousin to former KU and NFL lineman Chris Maumalanga, originally committed to play at San Diego State. But several friends and relatives, including Maumalanga, urged him to look elsewhere.
"When I went to San Diego State, it seemed like it was all about partying," he said. "Of course, it's right there by Tijuana. I heard a lot of stuff about San Diego State. A lot of people were telling me, 'Don't go there. You won't focus.' Actually, I really enjoyed my time at San Diego State, and it was close to home."
Proximity to home was one of the problems. Maumalanga and others advised Tuihalamaka to get far away from his old Inglewood, Calif., neighborhood.
"A lot of guys I knew ended up getting killed, shot, going to jail or things like that," he said. "I started going to school, and school got me here."
What a trip it's been.
Tuihalamaka didn't play football in high school. He was born in the Tongan Islands, and his family moved to California in 1988 when he was 8. His sport of choice was rugby, like his father.
He also followed his father into the construction business. Tuihalamaka never lifted weights -- he built his massive frame working for his dad.
"My hands and feet were getting pretty rough," Tuihalamaka said. "It's pretty hard, tough work. I wouldn't recommend it to anybody."
Neither would his father, who pushed his son to continue his education.
"I know I started late," said Tuihalamaka, who was 21 when he enrolled at San Bernadino. "I came to realize there was nothing out there. My dad was telling me, 'If you don't go to school, you're going to end up just like everybody else.'"
Though old for a freshman, Tuihalamaka found a niche at San Bernadino.
"It was tough," he said. "It was a new experience for me. I thought football was all about banging, putting on a helmet and going out and tackling people. That's what my theory was. I came to find out that football was a little bit physical, but you also have to know a lot of stuff, too."
Tuihalamaka learned enough to earn all-league, all-region and all-state honors. He had 5 1/2 sacks and 11 tackles for loss last year.
Tuihalamaka never took a red-shirt year in junior college, so he has a three-year window to play his final two seasons of eligibility. But KU coaches hope the junior can make an immediate impact on a line that allowed an average of 256.2 yards rushing per game last season as the Jayhawks finished 2-10.
"My goal is to play right away, but I have to battle other guys for a spot," Tuihalamaka said. "They've been here before, and I respect that."
The battle for playing time begins when preseason practices start Aug. 5. The junior lineman will have to drop more weight before then.
"It puts him in a tougher predicament because before we can think about playing football, he's got to get his weight down," Dawson said. "What I always hope for with any of these guys is that they're in good enough shape by the time we get around to two-a-days that they can get through practice and they're not worried about getting in shape. They're focused on playing football and learning the system. I give the guy a lot of credit for working hard."