Kaulana Apelu said an injury could keep him from playing in the Redbox Bowl.
“If I couldn’t walk, for sure,” the Oregon senior linebacker joked. “It is hard to play if you can’t walk.”
Apelu missed the final three games of the season with a small fracture in his leg, but walked out of practice on Monday planning to play his final college game against Michigan State on Dec. 31 in Santa Clara, Calif.
“I have a few more steps to go, but I am doing well physically and mentally,” Apelu said. “I am making progress every day. I just focus on that and by the bowl game, I will probably be ready.”
Apelu was injured on Nov. 3 against UCLA when he made his eighth start of the season. He hopes to be back in the starting lineup against the Spartans.
“That’s the goal,” Apelu said. “I can’t really tell you right now because I don’t know. As of right now, that’s a no, but I want to. It is an aspiration of mine.”
If Oregon had been back in the Las Vegas Bowl for the second year in a row last Saturday, the 5-foot-11, 208-pounder would not have been cleared, but he has returned to practice on a limited basis. That was more than Apelu expected when he was injured against the Bruins.
“At the time, I thought I was done for the season,” he said. “It helped that this bowl game is later in December to have more time off. It is a blessing to have the opportunity to play again.”
Despite playing in nine games, Apelu ranks second on the team with 58 tackles including two sacks.
“I had to look again to see if that was him running around in practice,” Oregon co-defensive coordinator Joe Salave’a said. “That’s a kid who is real devoted to the program. He is trying everything he can to speed up the recovery process.”
Apelu arrived at Oregon in 2015 and as a walk-on from Aiea, Hawaii and played in every game as a true freshman, mostly on special teams. He received a scholarship prior to his junior year when he started three games and had 20 tackles in five games before his season ended due to a fractured ankle.
“Everything happens for a reason, God’s plan I guess,” Apelu said. “This is something I have grown accustomed to. Getting my body right in top shape and I’m excited for each day as it comes. I’m ready.”
Sophomore Sampson Niu started next to Troy Dye in place of Apelu and had 15 tackles in the final three games.
“Sampson does a great job,” Apelu said. “We had Nate (Heaukulani) go in and it was good to see him make plays while he was out there. It was good to see people play at this level of football and make plays. Good to see my friends do that.”
Apelu would like to send those friends back to a reserve role for the Redbox Bowl.