POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Aug 22, 2013
LAST UPDATED: 8:04 p.m. HST, Aug 28, 2013
THIRD IN EIGHT-PART SERIES
John Hardy-Tuliau makes his rare skill-set stand up in the secondary.
Possessing the reflexes, athleticism and timing to come off the edge to block a field goal, punt, or point-after touchdown attempt — something he's done seven times in three years for the Hawaii football team — translates well to strong safety, his other primary job for the Rainbow Warriors.
Hardy-Tuliau made an impact upon joining the program in 2010 out of Vista Murrieta High in California, where he set the state career record for swats at 26.
That was the flash to his game, the easiest to pinpoint and quantify. All the while, Hardy-Tuliau quietly carved out a job as a leader on the field at strong safety, crafting the means to back up his swats with his substance.
"It's all part of being instinctive," secondary coach Daronte' Jones said. "Being able to time it just right. Being able to see it and have that quick twitch. … it's an instinct that not many people have. Same thing in the secondary, when the ball's in the air, being able to anticipate that ball's being thrown, take that proper angle, and trigger. It does correlate."
That's a good thing for UH, which will need the 5-foot-11, 180-pound Hardy-Tuliau to take point following the loss of all-everything cornerback Mike Edwards Jr. to the NFL. He's been a staple at defensive back, either at safety or at cornerback, over the past three years and has six interceptions and nine tackles for loss to show for it.
Hardy-Tuliau was part of the unit that allowed 182.8 passing yards per game last season, good for 11th nationally.
Now he has 12 games, 12 more chances to entertain UH fans with his big-play potential in two facets of play.
"I've had experience with different coaches, different playing styles. Just excited and ready for the season (starting Aug. 29 vs. USC)," Hardy-Tuliau said. "I thank God every day for the opportunity to play out here with these coaches and my players. Just grateful and ready to do it big my last year, and be successful."
He has help.
Sophomore corner Ne'Quan Phillips has starting experience, as does sophomore free safety Marrell Jackson. Fourth-year junior Dee Maggitt came into the program at the same time as Hardy-Tuliau, and is light on game experience, but won out the spot vacated by Edwards. Senior safety Charles Clay will rotate in where necessary.
Maggitt knows Hardy-Tuliau perhaps the best of any Rainbow Warrior, and has a read on what makes him tick — the desire to be great.
Like the San Antonio Spurs' Tim Duncan, Hardy-Tuliau has a stoic exterior and a lighter side that is rarely seen by strangers.
"He's definitely a goofy guy off the field," Maggitt said. "He likes to play around just as much as anybody, but he definitely does not bring that onto the field at all, which is good. He's a guy that the young guys can come to and talk to."
Hardy-Tuliau took an analytical approach in the offseason to help soothe the sting of a disappointing 2012.
"I wanted to focus on knowing the game more. … It's what the coaches want," he said. "After going 3-9, you gotta see what you did wrong and fix it so it doesn't happen again. I was in the coaches' office(s) a lot, and film (room), so I could learn as much as I can so when I'd be out here, I could help our young guys and help our defense make plays and be in position."
And, oh yeah, the UH kick-blocking record? That belongs to Matt Harding (1992-95) with 12. Hardy-Tuliau needs five to tie and six to pass.
"That's my goal. The goal's to shoot for the best," Hardy-Tuliau said. "So I don't know how many I need, but the coaching staff has put me in situations where I could go make plays. Try to get as many as you can."
Commander Cody:Junior quarterback Cody Fajardo returns for his third year as a dual threat in the Wolf Packs pistol offense. With Nick Rolovich moving in as offensive coordinator, Fajardo attempted 367 passes in 2012 (an increase of 149 over his first year) and threw for 2,786 yards (up from 1,707) and 20 touchdowns. He also boosted his rushing totals to 1,121 yards and 12 scores.
One more run for Wimberly:In perhaps the best comeback performance of the season, receiver Brandon Wimberly survived a shooting in 2011, returned to the field after a year off and earned All-Mountain West Conference honors.
Rebuilding the Union: Center Matt Galas and tackle Joel Bitonio are the returning starters on an offensive line that helped power the nations seventh leading rushing offense.
Youth movement: The Wolf Pack went into the summer with two seniors slated for starting roles on defense, and just three on the two-deep. Theyll be tested in an early-season schedule that includes road games at UCLA and Florida State.
Brock solid:Defensive end Brock Hekking led the Wolf Pack with 10 tackles for losses, including eight sacks, among his 75 total stops. Lenny Jones is back at the other end after recording seven tackles for loss and three forced fumbles.
Slim pickings: Nevadas defense snagged just six interceptions last season two coming in a win over UH tying the Pack for 105th in the FBS. Charles Garrett, the secondarys most experienced returnee, moves from cornerback to strong safety after breaking up 10 passes and intercepting one last year.
Carr in control:Quarterback Derek Carr returned for his senior season after throwing for a Mountain West Conference-record 4,104 yards last season, including 37 touchdowns and just seven interceptions. The reigning MWC Offensive Player of the Year is on the watch lists of most of the major offensive awards this summer.
Catching on fast: Davante Adams has already enjoyed record-breaking success at Aloha Stadium. He caught 13 passes, an MWC record for a freshman, for 144 yards in the Bulldogs loss to SMU in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl. That capped a remarkable freshman season in which he led the MWC with 102 catches, 1,312 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Replacing Rouse: Marteze Waller will have a shot at stepping into the role vacated by Robbie Rouse, the programs all-time leading rusher. Waller carried the ball 41 times for 178 yards as a freshman. DEFENSE
Year two for Toth: A year after implementing a 3-4, defensive coordinator Nick Toths defense returns eight starters to a unit that finished second nationally in pass defense (167.2 yards per game).
Picking up the pace:The Bulldogs ranked third in the FBS with 22 interceptions last season and returned six for touchdowns. Free safety Derron Smith had six picks and finished second on the team with 79 total tackles. Starting cornerbacks Sean Alston and L.J. Jones are also back.
Front intact:All three starting defensive linemen return, led by All-MWC nose guard Tyeler Davison (6 feet 2, 304 pounds).