“It was a great opportunity for me to share with him the opportunity he was about to pass up.” But with the resolve that had carried him in high school, where the undersized linebacker was called up to the varsity as a freshman and was the Pilots’ leading tackler as a sophomore, Tuitele returned to battle his way through college. “Oh yeah – it took me probably my whole freshman year and probably half of the next year to get used to being away from home,” Tuitele said after a practice this week. He redshirted his first year, started two games as a redshirt freshman in 2004, and claimed the starting role at weakside linebacker as a sophomore. Now, he’s a team captain for the No.19 Ducks, who resume their raucous rivalry with Fresno State today at Autzen Stadium. At 5-foot-11 and 226 pounds, Tuitele is far from the prototypical linebacker, but he utilizes his experience and instincts to fly around on defense. Last year, he added touchdowns with a 72-yard return of a blocked punt and a 26-yard interception return. Through two games this season, he is Oregon’s second-leading tackler and with Seattle Seahawks linebacker Lofa Tatupu as his idol, hardly worries about his stature. “I’m just motivated from people saying I’m not big enough, I’m not too tall, not heavy enough,” Tuitele said. “I use that as motivation to go out there and show ’em that they’re wrong. Lofa plays week in week out and he’s one of the top linebackers in the NFL now.” Whether or not Tuitele reaches the NFL is not even a thought for him at the moment. After all, the Ducks are suddenly one of the nation’s top early stories after thrashing Michigan, 38-7, on the road last week. While the story has been the downfall of the Wolverines, the Ducks have shown they are a force with versatile quarterback Dennis Dixon, the running back tandem of Jonathan Stewart and Jeremiah Johnson, and big-play receivers Jaison Williams and Cam Colvin. “That makes us a lot better as a defense,” Tuitele said. “We go against in my opinion the best quarterback in the nation as far as running and throwing the ball and I think we’ve got the best running back tandem in the nation. Every day at practice, we’ve got to get better going against our own guys.” And that keeps him smiling. “This came by so fast. I felt like I just got here and now I’m done,” Tuitele said. “I’ve had a hell of a time here. I’ve met lot of great people, learned a lot of things with this coaching staff that there is more than football in life.” Local connections: In addition to facing former North Hollywood High star running back Marlon Lucky this evening, USC could be trying to tackle for Narbonne High standout Major Culbert. He did not get a carry last week against Wake Forest, but ran for 35 yards on five carries with a 17-yard touchdown run against Nevada in the opener. . . . Sean Flynn, the former South Torrance High and Harbor College star, has completed 8 of 11 passes for 50 yards in relief of Adam Tafralis in two games for San Jose State. Maybe Flynn will cross paths today with Stanford defensive lineman Erik Lorig (Peninsula High) when the teams meet in San Jose. Sean’s brother, Kyle, has one reception (from Tafralis) for 10 yards. [email protected] local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! Now here’s a dream life. A.J. Tuitele will have played four games in his senior season before he even attends a class. Then in two weeks, when the fall term actually begins at the University of Oregon, Tuitele will actually have to attend a class. Yes, class. Singular. The former Banning High star already has his degree in political science and would only need to be enrolled in one class to remain eligible, much the same way Matt Leinart waltzed his way through ballroom dancing in his senior season at USC. Needless to say, Tuitele almost giggled at the thought of whiling away his class time on the dance floor. “Something like that, or billiards,” he said, laughing. The sweet life of A.J. Tuitele is something he never could have envisioned after he accepted a scholarship to play for the Ducks after finishing at Banning in 2002. Upon arrival, Tuitele fell victim to the homesickness bug, exacerbated by the death of his grandfather, who helped raise him with his grandmother. Tuitele returned home to Wilmington with Oregon coaches hot on his trail, insisting if he didn’t return to Eugene his scholarship would be revoked. Tuitele, the first person in his family to have a shot at a college education, was helped by his coach at Banning, Ed Lalau. “It could have been easy for him just to quit,” Lalau recalled.