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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, May 27, 2006

NCAA awards UH's Ilaoa sixth year

By Stephen Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer

Nate Ilaoa is still packing 245 pounds, but UH coach June Jones says, "the difference is he's in shape now."

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The NCAA yesterday awarded a medical exemption to Nate Ilaoa, allowing the University of Hawai'i starting running back to play as a sixth-year senior in the 2006 football season.

"This is great news," UH coach June Jones said. "If he stays healthy, he has a chance to do some great things."

Under NCAA rules, each Division I-A football player is permitted five years to play four seasons. Exemptions are granted for players who serve in the military, go on church missions or endure an extraordinary personal or medical hardship. Ilaoa based his petition on the shoulder and knee injuries that limited him to one game during the 2003 and 2004 seasons.

The NCAA agreed, and Ilaoa, who first enrolled at UH in August 2001, will return as UH's featured running back.

On Tuesday, free safety Leonard Peters was granted a similar waiver for a sixth year. Ilaoa's ruling was delayed because he needed to receive medical documentation from Los Angeles, where his shoulder surgery was performed.

Last year, Ilaoa gained a team-high 643 rushing yards, and led Western Athletic Conference running backs with a per-carry average of 7.6 yards.

"He has a lot of talent," Jones said. "He needs to stay healthy. He's one of those rare players who can do a lot of special things, and he's fun to coach."

The knee injury, Ilaoa has said, left him out of shape for the start of last year's training camp. At 5 feet 9, he weighed 245 pounds. Ilaoa still weighs 245, "but the difference is he's in shape now," Jones said.

During team testing in March, Ilaoa ran 40 yards in 4.65 seconds the fastest among the running backs and bench pressed 225 pounds 30 times. He did 121 sit-ups in two minutes.

Wideout Ian Sample and running back Bryan Maneafaiga still are awaiting results of their petitions for a sixth year.

Reach Stephen Tsai at stsai@honoluluadvertiser.com.