Apelu’s story ready for a new chapter
Kaulana Apelu’s feel-good story turned into a hard-luck tale.
The Oregon linebacker, a walk-on heading into his junior season, learned he had received a scholarship during a fall camp practice last August via a video message from his mom on the Autzen Stadium scoreboard.
Apelu earned a starting spot when A.J. Hotchkins was lost for the season with an injury in the opening game, then suffered the same fate when he fractured his ankle a few weeks later while making a tackle against California on Sept. 30.
“All I remember was I ran to make a tackle and then I had to hop off because something didn’t feel right,” Apelu said. “I thought I sprained it, but the doctor told me otherwise. That’s in the past, you have to move forward.”
Apelu earned time on special teams as a true freshman and entered the rotation on defense as a sophomore before starting four games as a junior. He ranked fifth on the Ducks with 20 tackles, including three for loss, when his season ended after less than a month.
“It was difficult because things were going so well and then an injury occurs,” Apelu said. “I think it is how you bounce back from it. It was hard mentally, but my friends and family and teammates got me through it.”
Apelu rehabbed with the goal to get back on the field in time for spring practice. He received treatment before and after each practice and was fully cleared to play as his workload increased throughout the spring.
“I wanted to get back for spring to get my feet wet and get back into doing football movements before fall camp when the season is right around the corner,” Apelu explained. “That was important for me. It feels good to be back out here playing football and doing things I want to do. Everything feels good so I am ready for the fall.”
Apelu provided the highlight of Saturday’s spring game when he intercepted a tipped pass four yards deep in the end zone and returned it for a touchdown.
The 5-foot-10, 204-pounder also led the Ducks’ defense with nine tackles.
“Great to see, isn’t it?” Oregon coach Mario Cristobal said. “Great young man and he’s finally healthy. He’s running well and striking without any reservation at all. He knows the system and was a very productive player for us last year before he got hurt. Obviously he’s competing at a position that has good players and we expect him to be very good this year.
“More than anything, he brings a lot of energy and positivity. He’s got a million-dollar smile. He walks in the room and he lights it up. We are all very fond of Lana because of the things he represents as a person and a player so we are really glad to have him back.”
Entering the spring, Apelu was listed as the backup to redshirt freshman Isaac Slade-Matautia at inside linebacker.
“I’m not worrying about that as of now,” Apelu said. “That’s for the coaches to decide in the fall, but I think I can bring something to the table. I will be ready when my name is called.”
Apelu got the physical results he wanted in the spring.
“I am trying to get the feel of football, get into football shape and football mode,” he added. “I am feeling my body out and getting back to doing the things I used to do. That is what gives me confidence to go out and play.”
Follow Steve Mims on Twitter @SteveMims_RG .