POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, May 3, 2011
It turns out that along with tropical breezes, the University of Hawaii can pitch Manoa to prospective recruits as the best place to feel the NFL Draft in the future Mountain West Conference, too.
With three Warriors — Alex Green, Greg Salas and Kealoha Pilares — having been selected in the just-completed NFL Draft, UH tops both the current Western Athletic Conference and the soon-to-be MWC in players picked over both five- and 12-year periods.
Twelve Warriors have been selected in the past five drafts and 23 have been claimed since 2000. Only Fresno State, among the current WAC membership, and San Diego State, among the 2012 MWC lineup, are close.
That says something about UH’s ability to not only evaluate and develop prospects over the years but also about its track record in showcasing them. Over the years UH has managed to overcome not only geography but parochialism.
Of course, having NFL draftees isn’t a rock-solid promise of success. Consider that Colorado had four players drafted this year and fired its coach in midseason on the way to a 5-7 record. Or that Boise State, which has had 10 picks in the past five years, has won 39 conference games — nine more than anybody else in the WAC during the period.
But if you are the Warriors as they prepare to join the MWC in 2012, it is instructive to know you’re doing a lot right and how it came to be. And that, when compared to future opponents, you are more than holding your own. For example, over the past five drafts UH’s 12 picks are one short of Colorado State, New Mexico, Nevada-Las Vegas and Wyoming combined. With Texas Christian, Brigham Young and Utah exiting the MWC by UH’s entry, the Warriors can be formidable.
That wasn’t always the case on draft day, even when UH was producing some good teams and capable players in its early WAC years. Back in the early 1980s Hawaii players were invariably taken in the late rounds — think ninth, 10th or 11th back then. That’s if the NFL deigned to take them at all.
In 1983, when Mark Tuinei went undrafted and Jesse Sapolu didn’t get selected until the 11th round, then-head coach Dick Tomey chastised NFL scouting staffs, wondering out loud what they were looking for. Or, if they were bothering to look at all.
But performances by Sapolu, who went on to a 13-year NFL career in San Francisco; Tuinei, who played for 15 seasons in Dallas; and others, not to mention the collection of Super Bowl rings they amassed in the process, opened eyes and expanded thinking.
Increased TV and postseason exposure, not to mention Los Angeles-based pro days, where ex-UH players display their talents to scouts, have helped.
These days, “I think there is a recognition among NFL people that Hawaii has had a lot of good talent,” said Tomey, who has followed UH’s draft fortunes for more than 30 years. “Hawaii just continues to put out guys that have a chance to play at the next level.”
For that the current crop can show its appreciation by making its mark and keeping open the doors for those who will follow in their cleats.
Reach Ferd Lewis at firstname.lastname@example.org.