Named after the late actor Charles Bronson, Hawaii football player Bronson Tiwanak was born to step into tough roles.
UH head coach Greg McMackin acknowledged that Tiwanak will enter training camp in August as the No. 1 center. Matagisila Lefiti, who was No. 1 exiting spring training, will miss all of training camp – and possibly the Sept. 2 season opener – after undergoing foot surgery.
"I hate to see a teammate go down," said Tiwanak, who will be a fifth-year senior in the fall. "I have to step up and do my best. I don’t walk around telling myself, ‘I’m No. 1.’ As far as I’m concerned, it’s open competition. I’m trying to work hard every day."
Yesterday morning, Tiwanak made most of the snaps during unsupervised drills. The players coordinate the twice-weekly sessions at Ching Athletic Complex.
The Warriors are seeking a successor to center John Estes, now with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Estes made every start during his 54-game UH career.
Lefiti, who was Estes’ top understudy the past two seasons, received most of the reps during the 15 practices of spring training. But the recurring problems with his left foot led to the eventual post-semester surgery.
"I figured it was something minor and he would be back," Tiwanak said. "But when I found out how long he would be out, I was kind of shocked."
Tiwanak also has endured a long waiting period. After graduating from Damien Memorial School in 2006, he was at Fresno City for two years. In 2007, Bryant Moniz, now at UH, was Fresno City’s starting quarterback.
Although Tiwanak was allowed to enroll at UH in the fall of 2008, he did not have enough transferable credits to practice or play with the Warriors that semester.
"It was hard to come around and watch other guys practice," Tiwanak said.
Tiwanak, 6-foot-2 and 300 pounds, is noted for his long hair, which he ties into a ponytail. His last haircut was three years ago.
"I didn’t want to pay for haircuts when I went to the mainland," he said. "I wanted to save money, so I let it grow."
More obstacles for LB
If it’s not one thing, it’s another for linebacker Cory Daniel.
Daniel was unavailable for most of the 2009 season after contracting walking pneumonia during training camp.
"I ended up practicing with a 103-degree fever," he recalled. "I didn’t know I had a fever. I thought it was the weather. It probably made it worse."
He said he lost 50 pounds, dropping to 205.
Now, he said, "my immune system is up." He weighs 240.
He has competed in unsupervised workouts the past two weeks despite throbbing pain in his right ankle.
"It doesn’t matter if I tape it," Daniel said. "Internally, it’s sore."
He said he probably will undergo an MRI in the next couple of weeks. But he said he will put off any possible surgery.
"I want to hold off and see how it goes during the season," he said. "I don’t want to miss any more time."
No walk in the park
Several Warriors participated in the past weekend’s walk-a-thon benefiting the daughter of strength and conditioning coach Tommy Heffernan.
"It was inspiring," linebacker Mana Lolotai said.
Lolotai was one of the few Warriors to complete the 38-mile walk from Hauula to the base of Diamond Head.
"I made it to the Hygienic Store (in Kaneohe)," defensive tackle Kaniela Tuipulotu said.
"Fourteen miles doesn’t cut it in a 38-mile world," Lolotai said.
Linebacker Aaron Brown, who wore slippers, also stopped in Kaneohe.
"The bottom of my feet were molded to the bottom of the slippers," Brown said. "It was pretty painful when I took them off."
Lolotai said descending the Likelike Highway was more difficult than ascending it.
"When we got out of the tunnel, it started pouring," he said. "My shoes got all wet. I started getting blisters. The craziest thing was going through the tunnel. The sidewalk was maybe a yard wide. We were hugging the wall while cars and motorcycles were zooming along."
The final destination had a mirage-like effect.
"Diamond Head was playing mind games with me," Lolotai said. "You could see it, but it was so far away.
"It was a good experience."
The group finished in 15 hours. Proceeds will be used to pay tuition to a special-needs school for Heffernan’s daughter.
For more Hawaii football, visit the Warrior Beat blog.