It would have been easy for Nu’umotu Falo to leave Colorado in the review mirror, or even given the game of football for good.
During the 2017 season, when Falo was supposed to be a junior competing for a start spot, he was home in California. Dismissed from the team for violating rules, he spent the fall at home, contemplating his future.
Last Saturday was a reminder of how far Falo has come since then. The senior outside linebacker recovered two fumbles in the Buffaloes’ 34-31 overtime win against Nebraska. It was the biggest single-game impact of his college career.
“For me personally they were pretty big,” he said. “Coaches are always emphasizing running to the ball. Good things happen when you run to the ball. Effort will never betray you. Me being around the ball and making an effort to be around the ball made big plays for me, myself, and also to the team, as well, to give us momentum back to win the game.”
Two years ago, it was up in the air if Falo would ever help CU win a game. He had played a bit as a true freshman in 2015 and as a sophomore in 2016.
Falo was suspended for the first three games of the 2016 season, however, after he and former teammate Donald Gordon were arrested and accused of stealing items from a dorm room.
In the summer of 2017, another team violation led to Falo’s dismissal.
“A lot of people looked up to me and a lot of people expected a lot from me,” he said. “For me to do the things that I did to end up where I was, I had to step back and pretty much reflect on my life; look at everything that was going to benefit my future. Going back and taking a step back and reflecting on my life and do everything that was better for myself for the betterment of other people to see and lead as a role model.”
After fulfilling all of then-head coach Mike MacIntyre’s requirements for reinstatement, Falo return in January of 2018. Rather than going by “NJ,” as he had before the dismissal, he began going by his full name, Nu’umotu – to honor his later father of the same name.
“Taking on my dad’s name was a big thing for me,” he said. “That was probably the biggest reflection I had. One thing I looked back on was how would it be if my dad was here? My dad, for sure, wouldn’t be proud of me. He probably wouldn’t want me to have his name after hearing and seeing the things I had done.
“When I came back, I wanted to hold his name and put his name up there where he belongs. I don’t want to let him down. I know he has the best seat in college football to watch me play.”
Falo is playing more than ever at CU. He was on the field for only 41 defensive snaps in 2018, but has a key player on the Buffs’ rotation this year. He got his first career start in the opener against Colorado State and played a career-high 51 snaps against Nebraska.
“After the season last year, especially the type of season we had, the only thing I was focused on was just doing everything I can to make this team better for the season coming up,” he said. “With the whole staff change, I think that was a great move there for us and having them pretty much prepared us for how they run their program.
“I looked at (the coaching change) as if I was true freshman again, coming in and showing them everything I can do, everything I’m capable of. Showing them I’m coachable and I can develop as a player and show these guys I’m ready to be on the field.”
Two weeks in, Falo is proving he belongs on the field and he’s gone from dismissed from the team to becoming a team leader.
“Me personally, I’ve been through a lot at this university; a lot of downfalls for me,” he said. “The greatest thing about me going through that (adversity) is I was able to turn it around and really prove other people wrong. I’m still in that mentality. I don’t ever want to do anything to embarrass myself or the team, so until I leave this university, it’s to the wall with everything. I want to be able to show these younger guys how it’s supposed to be, especially with the new staff.”
Ever better, Falo feels he would get the nod of approval from his father.
“I think he’s proud of me now,” Falo said.