"I'm feeling pretty good and I'm starting to get back into it," said Tuiloma. "It's coming along. It's tough, but it's coming along."
One of the challenges Tuiloma is finding himself experiencing is he isn't able to hold the middle like he used to. Much of that is due to the fact that he no longer weighs 340 pounds like he did prior to his mission.
"Being lighter makes it a little harder to hold down the box," Tuiloma said. "Before I was around 340 pounds but now I'm around 270, so not being able to control like I did is a challenge for me. I want to be around 290 by fall camp."
"Travis, I mean, you notice him and he's gotten a lot skinnier too," said Rowley. "He's impressed me a lot. He can play the nose or he can play the four technique. He's impressed me. Also [Remington], I mean, he's a great leader and he leads the d-line. He's football smart and he knows what he's talking about. He knows how to keep me motivated. I don't really know how to describe it. He's just a great leader and a great teammate. I really like that."
Prior to his mission, Tuiloma was often cited by fellow teammates as being one of the strongest players on the team despite being a freshman. Due to his mission and a two-year hiatus from lifting weights, Tuiloma has been working hard to get that strength back.
"My legs are coming along a lot faster than my arms and upper body," Tuiloma said. "It's going to take a while for my upper body to get back up to where it used to be. I'll get there though, but it's going to take some time."
Coach Mendenhall credits the program's returned missionary model for helping former players return to contributing status by the time the season starts.
"Our organizational model, we count on a year before they're ready to play," said Coach Mendenhall. "And by planning that way, anything ahead of that is a bonus. The best time for them, in terms of a transition, is to be home for the winter semester. Because that way they get an entire winter conditioning program and get a spring practice [under their belt]. Then they get spring semester, summer semester, and then they get fall camp, so that's our advice for anyone considering [serving a mission]. The guys that came recently are right on track and we are encouraged by what they're doing."
Ironically, Defensive Line Coach Steve Kaufusi was worried that Tuiloma would add weight to his 340-pound frame while serving his mission in Samoa. He feared that the people of Samoa, who always take care of LDS missionaries, would feed him to no end.
"You know, when he got his mission call to Samoa I was a little worried that he might gain weight. Instead he lost weight," said Kaufusi with a chuckle. "When he came back he came back a little light, so now we have to get him in the weight room and build up his strength and put some good weight on him."
For fellow defensive lineman Graham Rowley weight loss came as a mystery. For Tuiloma, who lost nearly 70 pounds, his weight loss is more understood.
"I did a lot of bike riding, walking, and just a lot of work out there," Tuiloma said with a slight laugh in his voice. "I don't really know how it all happened other than I just worked hard."
Although Tuiloma is back in the thick of spring football camp, he still misses being back in Samoa and being fully engaged in missionary work.
"Oh, the church is growing and I miss the work so much, but I know the church is growing even though I'm no longer there," Tuiloma said. "It's going really good."
Much like before leaving to serve both Rowley and Tuiloma will be right in the mix to play, and potentially start, this season according to Coach Mendenhall.
"Not only supplement the depth but there is a good chance they'll be starting, but they were good players before," said Coach Mendenhall. "So, they're not only going to push the depth but they could very well be at the top of the depth chart going into fall."
Tuiloma and Rowley built up a relationship before their missions and that friendship has continued.
"I really love it and have been roommates with Graham Rowley ever since we were here as freshmen," said Tuiloma. "We're really good friends and it's amazing to be back together."
When Rowley returned home the one offensive difference he saw the how there was a different set of practice intensity from the offensive side of the ball than the defense under Coach Mendenhall. Tuiloma saw the same thing but now, like Rowley, sees that what is expected of the offense is the same as those playing defense.
"Coming back from my mission this is what I've always wanted," Tuiloma said. "I've always wanted the offense to be intense with how they train, because with Coach Mendenhall being a defensive guy he always worked us. We would look at our offense and say, ‘Oh man, they're getting a lot of rest over there.' Now both sides are equal and have to do pretty much the same things as far as practice training goes. It's good.
"I really love the energy they have now. It's really fast paced. The offense is really going forward and moving the ball a lot faster. I think that will be good for going up against other teams."
As for his spring camp goals, Tuiloma wants to add some good weight to his frame, and because he's now a little lighter he wants to be able to use his hands more effectively now that he's more agile.
"I just want to get better with my hands," Tuiloma said. "That's the main thing because before I always bull rushed. I just want to get better with my hands so I can do more things. I just want to learn my plays and get better with my technique and stuff. I just want to be as good as I can. I want to be better than when I left on my mission, and so I want to work hard and reach some of the goals that I have for spring so I can be ready to go when fall camp arrives."