Watching classmates Jordon Scott and Austin Faoliu thrive last season as true freshmen on Oregon’s defensive line was bittersweet for Popo Aumavae.

“I think for me it was a struggle because I wanted to be out there,” Aumavae said. “But I was very happy for them, happy to see them dive in and do their thing. I’m just ready to be out there as well.”

Aumavae was finally a full participant in spring practice last week. The 6-foot-3, 311-pound redshirt freshman has recovered from last year’s bilateral shoulder surgery, which alleviated the pain from an injury sustained during his senior season of high school in Stockton, Calif.

After practicing last Tuesday and Thursday, Aumavae was the nose guard on the second-team defense during the Ducks’ scrimmage on Saturday in Portland.

“He’s a big guy. We don’t have that many nose tackles right now, so all the nose tackles we can get, the better,” defensive end Jalen Jelks said. “He showed great flashes even when he was hurt and stuff, glimpses of what he could be. As time goes by, I’m sure we will get more Popo.”

Scott (nose guard) and Faoliu (defensive end) have established themselves as the starters alongside Jelks in Jim Leavitt’s 3-4 scheme.

The talented trio is thrilled to welcome Aumavae to the rotation.

“He’s going to add more beef up front,” Faoliu said. “We need more big guys at nose guard. Right now they got me at D-end, so we need some more big boys up front playing nose. I think he will bring good size to the D-line.”

Scott is listed at 6-1, 336 pounds after completing new strength and conditioning coach Aaron Feld’s winter workouts. The sophomore showed off his athleticism with a bruising hit on running back Tony Brooks-James during the 88-play scrimmage at Franklin High.

“I really like Feld’s system because it’s suited for everybody. I’m really becoming a true nose guard as far as weight and the numbers I can put up in the weight room versus last year,” Scott said. “I can feel that my legs are stronger than they’ve ever been, and the lifts are more suited for all of us to have success quickly.”

Scott’s goal is to be fit enough in the fall to stay on the field during passing downs, but he also welcomes a rotation with Aumavae.

“I think Popo is going to be somebody who can come in and make a quick impact, as long as he stays healthy,” Scott said. “He’s just got to keep working on little things. He’s been out of football for two years. He’s got to get that dust off.”

Aumavae was a standout offensive and defensive lineman in high school. He was originally recruited by both of Mark Helfrich’s line coaches, Ron Aiken (defensive) and Steve Greatwood (offensive). He ended up being signed as part of Willie Taggart’s only recruiting class at Oregon.

Defensive line coach Joe Salave’a, who was retained by Mario Cristobal after Taggart left for Florida State, is a first cousin of Aumavae’s father.

“I really see him as more of a coach just because I don’t want the family thing to interfere,” Aumavae said of his relationship with Salave’a. “He does touch base with me as an uncle, just showing me love, but I see him more as a coach. … I was committed to the old staff. I really liked coach Aiken and coach Greatwood, but it did really spark my interest even more when I found out coach Joe was hired.”

While Leavitt is glad Aumavae wanted to play defensive line at Oregon, Cristobal’s interior offensive linemen now have their hands full with another aggressive giant from the 2017 recruiting class.

“Popo has really stepped up. I had never seen him put on a helmet or anything (until last week), but he’s a real strong guy, a physical guy,” left guard Shane Lemieux said. “He’s similar to Jordon, but he’s still learning the defense and everything.

“I can’t really make a true evaluation quite yet until he plays more, but he’s a strong guy and he loves football.”

Aumavae spent most of 2017 watching the action from the sideline with his arm in a sling. He said returning to the field “felt amazing,” but he was already mentally prepared for the experience after seeing the work Scott and Faoliu put in to have an immediate impact as true freshmen.

“I’m close friends with both of them,” Aumavae said. “Having them both in the same grade, same age as me teaching me, especially since they have some experience under their belt, helps a lot.

“To me, they’re like seniors because they know so much. Especially when I’m struggling, they teach me so much, and I appreciate that a lot.”