LAHAINA - If he is anything, Mitchell Loewen is adjustable.
Four and a half years after wrestling at 140 pounds as a Lahainaluna High School freshman, Loewen is home working two jobs and working out daily in preparation for his redshirt freshman season with the University of Arkansas football team.
The 2010 Maui Interscholastic League Defensive Football Player of the Year is now 6-foot-5 and 270 pounds, and his recovery from a knee injury that ended his freshman season before it began appears to be nearly complete.
Mitchell Loewen was in for 12 snaps at defensive end during this year’s Arkansas spring game.
The Maui News / ROBERT COLLIAS photo
"It is doing real good, it is probably about 95 percent," Loewen said of the knee before a recent weight-lifting session on the Lahainaluna campus. "I mean, I can run fast and everything. It just clicks a little bit and I have a little arthritis, but other than that it is 100 percent."
Loewen tore the anterior cruciate ligament, medial collateral ligament and meniscus in his left knee a week before Arkansas' first game of 2011 when he was blocking Jake Bequette, a 6-5, 274-pound defensive end who was selected in the third round of the 2012 NFL draft by the New England Patriots.
"I started running again about 3 1/2 months after that," Loewen said. "(The doctors) said I was ahead of schedule because I would just go and rehab. I was doing three hours of rehab a day and I would just go in no questions asked, go on the grind and just do it. The muscles around the knee are actually a lot stronger now than it was before (the injury)."
Loewen was switched to offensive tackle when he arrived in Little Rock as a 255-pounder, but has practiced at several other spots with the Razorbacks.
"They tried me out at outside linebacker, middle linebacker, defensive end, center, guard, tackle," he said. "I mean, I have lined up at a lot of positions over there."
Loewen worked at offensive tackle for all of spring practice, but when the spring game came along he hadn't seen any action as the fourth quarter began. He asked if he could enter the game as a defensive end, and played 12 snaps.
"I just went to the defensive coordinator and asked him to put me in," Loewen said. "I did pretty good and had a tackle. I love defense. Defense is where I think I belong."
During his high school career, the recruiting train didn't catch up with Loewen's rapid growth and he walked on at Arkansas after turning down his single scholarship offer, from Tulsa. He is believed to be the first MIL football player to play for a Southeastern Conference team.
"There are some guys on the team that don't know where I'm from - they are, like, 'Maui, Arkansas?' I'm, like, 'Are you kidding me? Come on,' " Loewen said. "I'm pretty sure I'm the only kid who was born and raised in Hawaii who goes to Arkansas. They don't believe me at first, they think I'm joking."
Loewen is working in construction and as a busboy this summer, up to 50 hours a week, to offset the approximately $20,000 per year he is borrowing from his grandfather Mac McClain to pay for tuition.
Loewen's love for the Pacific helps him work out.
"There's no ocean in Arkansas," he said. "I go run rock - grab a big rock and you just dive down and carry it on the bottom of the ocean floor, holding your breath, see how far you can go. I think I can do that for about 40 yards, it's hard. Put goggles on or a snorkel and you can see all the fish, it is pretty awesome."
Razorbacks offensive line coach Chris Klenakis says Loewen's potential is still being tapped.
"He is a big, athletic young man," Klenakis said. "He is going to learn a lot more about the game, but he is athletic, he's tough, he's a quick learner, so, yeah, I feel his future is bright. I like what I see so far, I am excited about him. It just comes down to hard work and learning the game and just continuing to get better each day."
Arkansas has undergone some recent coaching changes - former head coach Bobby Petrino was fired a little more than a week before the spring game after failing to disclose he was having an extramarital affair with a school employee. John L. Smith has taken over.
"It just shows that no one is above temptation, no matter how high you are," Loewen said. "He got tempted and he got caught. It was pretty hard, but you just have got to move on."
For Loewen, the journey continues as he grows with the game. Before he left Arkansas, he bench-pressed 225 pounds 26 times - a lift he could do once as a high school sophomore. He currently runs a 4.8-second 40-yard dash.
"It is pretty crazy," he said. "Since four years ago, I have gained 100 pounds. It is awesome being at Arkansas, there's a lot of great guys there, a lot of great competition. I just want to stay concentrating on earning a scholarship, show the coaches that I'm worth it."
* Robert Collias is at email@example.com.