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2013 SEASON PREVIEW // WARRIORS FOOTBALL


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In Florida frosh, UH hopes a star will be born

By Jason Kaneshiro

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 07:59 p.m. HST, Aug 28, 2013


SIXTH IN EIGHT-PART SERIES

Not long after viewing Diocemy Saint Juste's brief highlight video, Chris Demarest put in a call to Florida to see where the University of Hawaii might stand in the race to recruit the prep running back.

"When I called him up I said, ‘I might be late on this, but how many offers do you have already?' " Demarest recalled, "and he said ‘none.' And I said, ‘What? … Well let me be the first.' "

Although he'd ripped off a series of breakaway runs early in his senior season at Santaluces High School, seems Saint Juste was still a relative unknown in the recruiting scene to that point. After all, it was his first season as a starter and just his third year of organized football.

More colleges took notice as he continued to grind out yards and touchdowns, but he ended the recruiting process shortly after his visit to Hawaii and — less than a year later — is being groomed to play a part in the Rainbow Warriors' running back rotation as a freshman.

"True to the kind of person Dee is, once he committed to us he held to his commitment and that's special," said Demarest, UH's special teams coordinator and primary recruiter in Florida.

Saint Juste, who was born in Haiti and moved to Florida when he was 2, didn't play sports at all his freshman year at Atlantic Community High School. He was a backup fullback on the junior varsity as a sophomore and again didn't see much action his junior year after transferring to Santaluces.

"I played running back, but I didn't know the game, so I never saw the field," Saint Juste said. "I was just a person on the sideline."

So what clicked the following season?

"My senior year I learned how to get a handoff," he said.

Once he mastered the first step in running the ball, there was little to slow him down the rest of the season. The speedy back rushed for 1,243 yards and 16 touchdowns as a senior, averaging nearly 7.5 yards per carry while posting six scoring runs of 50 yards or longer.

"I knew I wasn't a garbage player," he said, "but I wasn't expecting to do those things I did."

It was around October when one of Demarest's trusted contacts alerted him to Saint Juste's exploits and (with head coach Norm Chow's approval) the Rainbow Warriors were among the first Division I schools to extend a scholarship offer.

"I knew as the season went on and his film got out there, there would be a lot more people coming with the offers, which is what happened," Demarest said. "But you stay persistent in recruiting and hope you develop that relationship, and we did."

Saint Juste cited Hawaii's weather, diversity and the opportunity to contribute early in his career among the factors that sold him on the cross-country move.

Still relatively new to the game, Saint Juste's education continued in fall camp although a hamstring injury hampered his progress. Even so, he's projected to see playing time in a young UH backfield.

With Joey Iosefa, the only member of the group with a Division I carry, recovering from a broken bone in his foot, freshman Faga Wily moved to the front of the group late in camp while second-year freshman Steven Lakalaka and Washington transfer Willis Wilson are also expected to help carry the load.

Saint Juste returned to full practice duty as the Warriors transitioned from camp to game-week preparations for Thursday's opener against USC.

"We were just cautious with him," UH running backs coach Chris Wiesehan said. "More importantly we wanted to make sure he felt good and in a position to compete. He's very intelligent and he has a great speed component and has great body balance and vision."

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