Saturday marked the first time Tshiyombu Lukusa played in a college football game since November 2016.
A lot has changed since then, to say the least.
The 6-foot-5, 305-pound lineman used to play right tackle for the Michigan State Spartans, now he plays left guard for the Arizona Wildcats.
In between those stops, he took a season off from football after losing his passion for it and worked several odd jobs in his hometown of Traverse City, Michigan where he warmed back up to the idea of being a student-athlete again. (Spoiler: those jobs were not fun.)
Lukusa was originally going to restart his career at Arizona Western as a dual-sport athlete but that plan lasted all of three days after he realized Yuma is, well, Yuma. So then he opted to join the Arizona Wildcats thanks to a previous relationship with recruiting coordinator Chris Singletary.
Lukusa was forced to sit out the 2017 season, but now has an important role with the Wildcats in 2018, providing a veteran presence for an offensive line that is breaking in five new starters.
The redshirt sophomore spoke to the media Tuesday where he explained why he left football, what those odd jobs were like (and how many he had), and why he decided to return to football and join the Wildcats.
Here are parts of that conversation, which have been lightly edited for length and clarity. The full interview can be watched at the bottom.
Why did you leave football?
I wasn’t sure how I felt about it anymore. I needed to get away and get an appreciation for it, work at a carwash and do some of this other stuff that I really didn’t like, which I did. But I’m back now and I’m happy that I’m here.
What’d you do at the carwash?
Washing cars, drying the wheels. I mean you name it, I did it.
What other jobs did you have?
Plowed snow, worked in construction, laid plank on the side of the highways up in Michigan. I worked in an adult foster care home for a good amount of time, working with disabled adults.
Of all those jobs, which was a favorite or the most memorable?
Working at adult foster care home definitely helps you appreciate your life and the things you’re able to do as a healthy human being. I get to play sports at a major university so I’m definitely blessed and it helped me see that even more so.
How long was it before you realized it that football might be OK?
I was at the carwash for probably like a month and people started asking me, ‘aren’t you supposed to be starting at Michigan State?’ And I was like, ‘yeah, now, I’m at the carwash’ and I kinda got tired of answering and then asking myself why I’m here. So it took me about a month and then I started kind of putting pieces together.
How long did you do all those various jobs?
I was out of football for probably like seven to eight months total. And in between then I had those jobs.
Were you in school still at that point or were you out of school?
I was out of school. I wasn’t doing anything. I was kinda living the low life, I guess.
After those seven, eight months, what kind of football shape were you in?
I wasn’t close. I came here and I lied to myself, telling myself I was, but I had a lot of work to do on scout team and to kind of piece that together. I lost a lot of weight, which is good because I felt I was too heavy at 340. But I wasn’t in football shape when I came back.
So having a year off was helpful?
Yeah, definitely helpful. It was definitely like a mental break and rest. And then I was planning on going to play basketball when I was going back to college, so I lost a bunch of weight and that was helpful for me.
So when you were going to relaunch your football career, you initially went to Arizona Western, is that right?
Correct. I was going to do both a football for the scholarship money and then basketball for the enjoyment just because it’s one of my first loves. I was getting to play football and then eventually I planned on coming back to play football at a big school. I was just going to play basketball because I needed to get in shape because I knew I wasn’t ready to be at this level yet.
How long were you at Arizona Western before you came into contact with Chris?
Did he reach out to you or did you reach out to him?
He had reached out to me before I went down and then I got down there, and no offense to Yuma, but Yuma was different than I pictured it in my head. It wasn’t the cliff jumping and water. So I mean I got down there and the whole basketball thing wasn’t really what I thought it was going to be. I had expected something and it was just different, so I wanted to come play football at a place like this.
But you knew if you did that you’d have to sit out last year. Did that factor into your decision at all?
Yeah, a little bit. You don’t really want to sit out, but like I said, I wasn’t ready so it was good for me to sit out and work on my body and just kind of get back to football because, missing spring ball and then not really working out at a high level for that long, I needed the time to just get me back.
When we talked to Rich Rodriguez about you last year, he said that the redshirt year would be kind of a test for your passion for the game. Did you view it the same way?
That wasn’t what was trivial for me. It was just come in, do what you need to do to be ready to play next year and hopefully earn a spot on the O-line. But I guess you can say it tested my passion, but it’s part of football — sitting out and working out and sometimes you make sacrifices and that’s just part of football and life .
How has Tucson met your expectations?
I like Tucson. There’s no water. There’s a ton of water where I’m from, but it’s a great college town. I love it. I mean, look at the mountains. Being surrounded by mountains is something I’ve never seen. I’d 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, my friends, independent, my dog, life’s good, school’s good, Tucson has been good to me.
Did you feel rusty at all out there for the first time in a long time that you played in a game?
Yeah, I mean it was the return for me and I was a little nervous, to be honest with you. I had to get those jitters out. It’s been a while since I’ve been on the football field taking live bullets. So yeah, I felt a little rusty but I kind of worked through it and I wouldn’t say I had my best game. There’s improvement to be had and I think that’ll come as time goes on.
Have you ever played guard before?
No, not even in high school. This was a big switch for me for sure.
When they told you, ‘hey, we’re going to take a look at playing you at guard instead of tackle,’ what did you think?
I thought they obviously had a plan in place for the rest of the season and a bigger-picture plan, bigger than the first two games. I was ready to do it because, one, I don’t want to be on the bench and, two, I want help this football team and if it’s at guard, it’s at guard.
Tshiyombu Lukusa lost his passion for football, so he left Michigan State and worked at a car wash before joining Arizona FootballPosted by AZ Desert Swarm on Tuesday, September 4, 2018