By Kyle Galdeira, photos: courtesy UH Media Relations/istock
With a stellar 11-3 record last fall, the University of Hawaii football squad proved that many of its players were of professional caliber. NFL teams selected five of them—a record for the school—to continue their careers on the sport’s biggest stage: Ikaika Alama-Francis (Detroit Lions), Samson Satele (Miami Dolphins), Reagan Mauia (Dolphins), Melila Purcell (Cleveland Browns) and Nate Ilaoa (Philadelphia Eagles). Five more Warriors joined the pro ranks as free agents: Tala Esera (Dolphins), Dane Uperesa (Cincinnati Bengals), Leonard Peters (New York Jets), Kenny Patton (Oakland Raiders) and Lawrence Wilson (Baltimore Ravens).
While these former Hawaii standouts attempt to make names for themselves, we look back at some of the university’s most successful draft picks, who’ve paved the way for the next generation of gridiron gladiators.
JASON ELAM UH Years: 1989-1992 Drafted: 3rd round, 1993 NFL Experience: Denver Broncos (1993-present) Gridiron Glory: An all-American place kicker at Manoa, Elam tied the NFL record for the longest field goal ever kicked with a 63-yarder in 1998. He has converted 80.2 percent of his 459 field goals attempted, and has connected on 568 of 571 extra-point tries.
JESSE SAPOLU UH Years: 1979-1982 Drafted: 11th round, 1983 NFL Experience: San Francisco 49ers (1983-1997) Gridiron Glory: Sapolu played on four Super Bowl championship squads with such football legends as Joe Montana and Jerry Rice. A member of the Hawaii Sports Hall of Fame, the Farrington High alum played for hometown fans in two Pro Bowls.
PISA TINOISAMOA UH Years: 2000-2002 Drafted: 2nd round, 2003 NFL Experience: St. Louis Rams (2003-present) Gridiron Glory: A two-time all-WAC selection and Hawaii MVP in 2002, the outside linebacker has excelled in the NFL, recording 301 tackles, seven sacks and five interceptions through his first 59 NFL games.
JEFF ULBRICH UH Years: 1998-1999 Drafted: 3rd round, 2000 NFL Experience: San Francisco 49ers (2000-present) Gridiron Glory: Ulbrich made the all-WAC first team in 1999 and, as an inside linebacker for the 49ers, has continued his onslaught on opposing offenses. Through seven seasons in San Francisco, the 30-year-old has tallied 317 tackles, 5.5 sacks and two interceptions.
TRAVIS LABOY UH Years: 2001-2003 Drafted: 2nd round, 2004 NFL Experience: Tennessee Titans (2004-present) Gridiron Glory: The 2003 WAC Defensive Player of the Year was a menace for opposing offenses. After a stellar start with Tennessee, the 6-foot-3-inch, 250-pound lineman has already picked up 92 tackles and 13.5 quarterback sacks.
CHAD OWENS UH Years: 2001-2004 Drafted: 6th round, 2005 NFL Experience: Jacksonville Jaguars (2005-2006), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (present) Gridiron Glory: At UH, the wide receiver and kick returner from Roosevelt High earned All-America honors. While he’s been used sparingly as a pro, Owens hopes for a breakout year with the Bucs.
ASHLEY LELIE UH Years: 1999-2001 Drafted: 1st round, 2002 NFL Experience: Denver Broncos (2002-2005), Atlanta Falcons (2006), San Francisco 49ers (present) Gridiron Glory: As the highest draft pick in UH history, the wide receiver out of Radford High racked up 3,437 yards and 13 touchdowns through the air in his five pro seasons. This year, he takes his talent to San Francisco.
MAA TANUVASA UH Years: 1990-1992 Drafted: 7th round, 1993 NFL Experience: L.A. Rams (1993, injured in 1994), Denver Broncos (1995-2000), San Diego Chargers (2001), Atlanta Falcons (2002) Gridiron Glory: At UH, the Mililani High alum amassed 190 tackles and 10 sacks as a defensive tackle and end. He went on to win two Super Bowl rings as a member of the Broncos.