PETER TUIPULOTU still twinges when he thinks of the injury, a blow to the knee that happened six years ago.

"It hit me hard. Nothing's ever hit me that hard," he says. "They said three of the four principle ligaments were completely blown."He insists he can still feel it - and he was 750 miles away when it happened.

When his brother's football career was crushed.

"I was just finishing my senior year of high school in California," remembers Peter. "I'd signed to play at BYU. I was excited to go where my brother was playing. I wanted to follow in his footsteps."

But on a freak play in the spring of 1986, sophomore running back Tommy Tuipulotu, as promising of a tailback as the BYU Cougars had ever had, became a victim of his own elusiveness. One minute Shawn Knight, BYU's 290-pound All-America tackle, had him in his grasp, the next minute all he had was the tail of his jersey. Knight held on, waiting for help. When it came it landed full force on Tuipulotu's left knee.

The entire football program flinched.

"Some injuries you can't get over. That was one of them," remembers BYU Coach LaVell Edwards. "It wasn't that Tom was going to be such a good player, but he so enjoyed it. He was so exuberant, so upbeat. He and Lakei (Heimuli) were going to be our starters, and with Lakei blocking for Tom . . ." The coach doesn't finish the sentence. Instead, he shifts gears and talks of Tom's younger brother, Peter, who comes into his senior year this season as the Cougars' top offensive threat this side of quarterback Ty Detmer. Indeed, if Detmer is to have success, Tuipulotu is going to have to pick up the slack left by departed senior Matt Bellini and provide Detmer an effective running back decoy.

There is no reason to believe he can't pick up that slack, since Tuipulotu's yards-per-carry average of 6.5 last season and his total rushing yards of 637 led the team. Add on his 28 receptions for 253 yards and you have almost 1,000 yards of offense returning.

Even before the returns of his senior season are turned in, then, you can say that Peter Tuipulotu has turned out to be the second coming of his brother.

But he says he still feels the void, and he says he still feels the need to rack up double the yardage, if possible, because Tom's still got some yardage coming, a lot of it.

"He is my idol," says Peter of his older brother. I've always wanted to be like him. "I played football because he played football. I've always wanted to do better than he's done, to show him that he paved the way."

At San Mateo High School in the Bay Area of California, Peter came along and broke his brother's school and league rushing records. At BYU - he came in 1987, the year after Tom's injury - his 6.5 rushing average on 98 carries last season equaled Tom's team-leading 6.5 average on the 1985 team, when Tom was a sophomore, and his 637 yards surpassed the 587 yards Tom gained on 90 carries that 1985 season.

"When times get tough I just think about what Tom could have accomplished if he hadn't thrown out that knee," says Peter. "That's my inspiration to work harder."

Tom is his inspiration in another, more literal, way. Before and after almost every game, the brothers talk on the telephone. Back home in the Bay Area, where he works with a publishing firm that distributes school textbooks, Tom has become Peter's mentor.

"He tells me to get my sleep, to study my plays, to work hard," says Peter. "And I listen."

Says Tom, "I just remember what it was like when I played and I stress certain things. That he should get his rest, that he needs to go over his plays in his head. We're very close. We talk a lot."

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Tom says he still plays rugby and volleyball, but gingerly. After the knee injury, the doctors told him to turn his back on football before he was crippled. "I'm still walking, I'm getting on with my life," he says. "And I'm supporting him (Peter) as much as I can."

Tom won't be at Thursday night's season opener in Anaheim Stadium, when Peter and the Cougars play Florida State in the Disneyland Classic. He'll watch that game on TV at home in San Mateo. He will travel to Pasadena next week, however, to see the UCLA-BYU game in person.

"Tom knows that in a way I'm doing this for him," says Peter. "Of course I'm doing it for me, too. I know this is my year to come through. With me and Ty being the only skill position guys returning, it's scary, but it also means there will be a lot of opportunity."

Edwards, meanwhile, is happy he still has one more year with a Tuipulotu in the backfield. "They're different kinds of runners," he says. "Tommy was more of a slasher, and maybe a little faster. Peter's a little bigger, and a better receiver. But they both have that perpetual smile. They're both such great guys, the kind you like to see do well."

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