POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Sep 10, 2010
LAST UPDATED: 2:10 a.m. HST, Sep 10, 2010
PARK RIDGE, N.J. » Everybody was in the right place. Everybody knew exactly what to do. And then, everybody executed - to as close to perfection as humanly possible.
This was just practice, but the University of Hawaii football team performed so well that the Park Ridge High School players and coaches applauded. They'd seen nothing like it before, but they knew it was good.
Even a veteran observer from the Warriors camp was impressed.
"Best haka ever," said strength coach Tommy Heffernan. "Now, let's play football like that."
Heffernan, the former UH athlete who comes from the North Shore of Oahu, has seen the routine many times.
But it was probably a once-in-a-lifetime vision for this quiet northern New Jersey town, a scenic little place full of old but well-kept wooden houses and American flags. The folks here say Park Ridge is representative of the Garden State much more than the dumpster fire of a hit TV show "Jersey Shore." (I tell them I empathize, weary of the negative image of Hawaii locals burned into the minds of many thanks to "Dog the Bounty Hunter.")
So, the most ethnically diverse college football team in the world, hailing from the middle of the Pacific Ocean, performed its signature pregame routine as well as it ever has on a high school field in New Jersey yesterday. Coach Greg McMackin agreed it's a good sign; this team is together.
Tomorrow, the Warriors take the act north 30 miles, to the United States Military Academy. The haka will likely be appreciated by a crowd intimately familiar with martial rituals. Very unlikely, though, will it intimidate any of the Army officer trainees/football players of West Point.
BUT IF UH defends against the Black Knights' option offense as well as it danced yesterday, Hawaii will win big at Michie Stadium. I'm counting as a given plenty of points from the Warriors' run-and-shoot attack that embarrassed USC.
Although the Warriors defense was torched by the Trojans, there is fairly recent precedent to believe it is up to the challenge Army's option offense presents. The last time UH won a football game, Nov. 28, 2009, it was because it held Navy's similar scheme to 40 yards under its average and just 17 points, and new defensive coordinator Dave Aranda had a big hand in it.
The linebackers who helped key that effort with 22 tackles, Blaze Soares and R.J. Kiesel-Kauhane, were seniors. Corey Paredes, George Daily-Lyles, Mana Lolotai, Paipai Falemalu and Jake Heun are among those on the spot now.
Heun, especially, "will be jacked," McMackin said. West Point is alma mater to three of his relatives.
"Me? Nah, but who knows? Maybe after I'm done with football and (MMA) fighting I'll join up and jump out of airplanes and stuff," Heun said.
Rob Heun, Jake's father and a 1977 West Point grad, played fullback and linebacker at Army - two of the many positions his son has played at UH. "Half the family will probably sit on Hawaii's side, the other half on Army's side, then we'll switch over," said Rob, who made the trip here from the family home in Alaska.
Jake said he was recruited by Army, but knew he was too much of a free spirit for the academy's structure. Now, in a roundabout way, that same program will test his discipline. Defenders freelance against the option at their own peril.
"Yeah, you can't do that. You could get caught in some misdirection and end up on the other side of the field (than the ball)," Heun said. "For all the 'backers and actually everybody, we've got to have our reads down, and we have to get there quick."
But even prior to a game where most of the defense's talk is about responsibility and assignments, you can always count on Heun to break football down to its essence.
"Of course it always helps if you knock the dog(crap) out of them and make them not want to play anymore."
The Warriors are ready to dance.