Hana Hou? Umm, No.
The Hawaii Warriors won’t duplicate last year’s success, but they’ll still be worth watching.
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.
The excitement on defense begins with the linebackers. Adam Leonard, Solomon Elimimian and Blaze Soares spearhead the finest group of linebackers in the WAC. Leonard briefly flirted with leaving school a year early to enter the NFL draft, but wisely chose to stay for his senior season. Elimimian was named “WAC Defensive Player of the Year” in a recent preseason media poll. When he comes back from injury, Soares may be one of the most fun players to watch, as he has three levels of hitting power: hard, harder and runaway freight train. Defensive coordinator Cal Lee is also excited about junior Brashton Satele, who will provide backup support in the middle.
The defensive line may be lacking in star quality, but it offers both experience and depth. Seniors Keala Watson, Fale Laeli and Josh Leonard will be in the rotation at the tackle spots, along with junior Rocky Savaiigaea. Right end John Fonoti is ready to improve on a productive sophomore campaign, when he notched three sacks and two forced fumbles. David Veikune, an All-WAC selection who led the team in sacks (seven) as a reserve, will man the left end spot.
Even with the loss of three starters, Hawaii’s secondary remains strong. Desmond Thomas and Keao Monteilh are solid at the safety positions, and Oregon transfer Jameel Dowling will compete with returnee JoPierre Davis for one cornerback spot. The other cornerback position will be filled by senior Ryan Mouton, who is expected to have a big year. The 5-10, 180-lb. Mouton has NFL ability, and it was his interception in the waning seconds of the UH-Washington game that preserved the Warriors’ Sugar Bowl bid.
The special teams should benefit from a more aggressive approach this season. In a radical departure from Jones’ let’s-just-make-sure-we-give-our-offense-a-chance-to-score philosophy, McMackin has promised to attack opposing punt units. Steady placekicker Dan Kelly returns for his senior campaign.
PHOTOS: COURTESY UH SPORTS MEDIA RELATIONS