No more washing cars: OL Lukusa regains football passion at Arizona

Tshiyombo Lukusa meets with the media Tuesday.(screenshot from twitter video, via Matt Moreno,

Ex-Michigan State transfer started at left guard in first game with the Wildcats

TUCSON, Ariz. -- Tshiyombo Lukusa, having fallen out of love with football, gave the real world a try.

Working at a car wash. Plowing snow. Doing construction. Helping at an adult foster care center.

He was doing all this in his hometown of Traverse City, Mich., after playing in eight games as a true freshman offensive tackle at Michigan State. That's a fairly notable accomplishment. An outsider might think he would have a future at this football thing.

But then he quit football, quit school, after only one semester -- the fall of 2016.

"I wasn't sure how I felt about it anymore," he said of playing football in an interview with Arizona reporters Tuesday following his Wildcats debut as the starting left guard on Saturday night. "I needed to get away and get an appreciation for it."

Perhaps drying hubcaps at the Boon Street Auto Wash -- "the best car wash in town," Lukusa still says with a certain sense of pride -- isn't actually all it's cracked up to be.

"I was the car wash for maybe a month and people started asking me, like, 'Aren't you supposed to be starting at Michigan State?' I kind of got tired of answering that and asking myself why I'm here. It took me about a month and then I started kind of putting pieces together."

A picture of the Boon Street Auto Wash via its website.

He said his most memorable job was working with people with disabilities.

"Working at the adult foster care home definitely helps you appreciate your life and the things you are able to do," Lukusa said. "I'm a healthy human being and I get to play sports at a major university, so I'm definitely blessed. It helped me see that even more."

So after several months with no school, no football and odd jobs, having put on weight -- "living like a low-life, I guess," he said with a smile -- he came up with a new plan. His idea was to enroll at Arizona Western College in Yuma, play football on scholarship in the fall, play basketball (one of his first loves) in the spring to help get back into shape ... and then find his way back to major college football.

Lukusa recalls he was at Arizona Western for three days in the summer of 2017 before getting a phone call from Chris Singletary, who was the director of recruiting for the Wildcats.

"He had reached out to me before I went down there, and then I got down there and, no offense to Yuma, but Yuma was different than I had pictured it in my mind. It wasn't the cliff-jumping and water ..."

He decided to try Tucson instead, committing in August 2017 to the coaching staff of Rich Rodriguez and announcing on Instagram: "Plans changed, I've changed, schools changed, but change isn't a bad thing."

As part of that change, Lukusa had to sit out last season as a transfer but that was OK. He said he was 340 pounds at one point and not exactly in football shape anyway.

"I wasn't close," he said. "I came here and I lied to myself and told myself I was, but I had a lot of work to do on the scout team."

When Kevin Sumlin and his coaching staff arrived in the offseason, they asked Lukusa to move to guard, which is more change as a brand new position for him. But he was fine with that, too. Players who love football do whatever they can to be on the field and help the team.

Arizona's new-look offensive line -- which is missing two established veterans in left tackle Layth Friekh (ineligible for one more game) and center Nathan Eldridge (injured, status unknown) -- has plenty work on after a season-opening 28-23 loss to BYU and heading into Saturday's matchup at Houston, which features defensive tackle Ed Oliver, the potential No. 1 pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.

Lukusa admitted to jitters Saturday night but is eager to meet new challenges, having regained his passion for football in the desert Southwest.

"I like Tucson," he said.

"There is no water. There is a ton of water from where I'm from. But it's a great college town. I love it. Being surrounded by mountains is something I have never seen. I had never been west of Chicago before I came out here. So, it's cool to me.

"It's cool to be out here, to be in my house with my friends, independent, with my dog. Life's good, school's good. Tucson has been good to me."

No. 1-1

Great for him that he rediscovered whatever he needed before it was too late. Good luck and Bear Down