Hana Hou? Umm, No.
The Hawaii Warriors won’t duplicate last year’s success, but they’ll still be worth watching.
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University of Hawaii head football coach Greg McMackin isn’t one to reveal his exact age. “I’m in that 60 range,” he hints. He smiles. “I don’t get gray hair,” he says. “I give other people gray hair.”
Not so fast, coach. Football has a way of aging head coaches, especially when your team is coming off a perfect 12-0 regular season and a trip to the BCS Allstate Sugar Bowl. Still, the new Warriors coach is doing his best to keep his assistants and players grounded. “Stay humble, stay hungry,” is his mantra for the team.
Good advice. Despite their success in 2007, the Warriors still have much to prove. The naysayers, for example, argue that Hawaii’s 12-0 record last year was the result of a weak schedule. The skepticism was only bolstered by Georgia’s 41-10 thrashing of the Warriors in the Sugar Bowl.
2008 Warrior Schedule
Aug. 30 – @ Florida
This year’s schedule is decidedly tougher. Couple that with the departures of Jones, four assistant coaches, Heisman Trophy finalist Colt Brennan and all four of the team’s starting receivers, and there are plenty of reasons for the 2008 edition of the Warriors to “stay humble, stay hungry.”
Ultimately, the success of this year’s Warriors will largely depend on how quickly the offense can come together. Duplicating 2007’s “Dream Season” is, well, fantasy. But expect Hawaii to easily qualify for another postseason berth. Prediction: a 9-4 overall record (6-2 in the WAC) and a date with UCLA in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl. For Coach Mack, the Grecian Formula can wait another year.
The good news is, the talent is there to make a run at another WAC title. Brennan is now in the NFL, but in his place are returnees Tyler Graunke and Inoke Funaki. Graunke, a 6-0, 185-lb. senior, started two games last season and was the catalyst for the team’s stirring 28-26 road victory over Nevada. Funaki, a 5-11, 195-lb. junior out of Kahuku High School, looked impressive in the spring and is pushing Graunke hard for the starting role.
Funaki, a 5'11", 195-lb. junior out of Kahuku High School, looked impressive in the spring. In 2007, he completed 10 out of 15 passes for 136 yards, scoring three touchdowns.
Don’t count out junior college transfers Greg Alexander and Brent Rausch, who may figure into the mix as well.
While the offense should continue to put up gaudy passing numbers, expect Hawaii to embrace a more defined running attack this season. Returnees Daniel Libre and David Farmer, along with newcomer Jake Heun, are among the candidates to see playing time at running back. The player to watch, however, is junior Leon Wright-Jackson, who showed flashes of his potential last season as a transfer from Nebraska. The 6'1", 210-lb. Jackson is a former Parade All-American, who should assume a larger role in the offense.
Leading the offensive line, Estes has quietly developed into one of the top five centers in the country. The 6'2", 290-lb. junior is the team’s lone All-WAC player returning on offense, and he’s on the watch list for numerous national awards in 2008.
Fellow returning starters Keith AhSoon and Keoni Steinhoff are expected to get the nod at left guard and right tackle, respectively, while Lafu Tuioti-Mariner is penciled in at the right guard spot. Aaron Kia and newcomer Ray Hisatake will contend for the all-important left tackle position.
Receivers and Slotbacks
Gone are dependable pass-catchers Davone Bess, Ryan Grice-Mullin, Jason Rivers and C.J. Hawthorne—all of whom earned NFL tryouts in the summer. The cupboard isn’t bare, however.