University of Hawaii football practice starts tomorrow. That means it’s time for our annual Reasons To Call In Sick And Go Watch The Warriors.
Here’s some of the fun stuff to look for:
New guys: Our UH football beat writer, Stephen Tsai, introduced me yesterday to one of the Warriors’ most intriguing newcomers. His name is John Hardy-Tuilau, from Temecula, Calif.
Hardy-Tuilau is listed as a 6-foot-1, 175-pound cornerback, but the thing I’m excited to get a look at is his kick-blocking proficiency. Hardy-Tuilau got his hands or some other part of his body on a state-record 26 kicks in three years of varsity play at Vista Murrieta. That’s an average of nearly one a game.
He’s got solid returning starting corners in front of him — Jeramy Bryant and Lametrius Davis — but Hardy-Tuilau could get on the field early on special teams.
"There’s no secret to (blocking kicks). I just have a knack for it," he said. "They started double-teaming me, which was good because it opened it up for somebody else."
His dad, John Hardy, played in four games for the 1991 Chicago Bears.
Another freshman, slotback Allen Sampson, is just 5-8 and 165 pounds. But special teams could also be his ticket to early playing time. Sampson is a slick and speedy return guy who averaged 31.9 yards on kickoffs and 14.8 on punts for the Florida 5A (biggest schools) state champions from Plant High in Tampa, Fla..
Then there’s Dave Lefotu, a 6-foot-3, 295-pound offensive lineman from Pearl City. I doubt this man-child will be carrying pads for veterans long, if at all; Lefotu was a four-year prep starter — and team captain as a freshman.
One on ones: This always draws a crowd. The big boys lock horns for pride and points with the coaches.
Salas slams: He’s a senior now, an All-America candidate and the face of the team. He says stuff about putting team goals ahead of individual. But I hope slot receiver Greg Salas doesn’t get too serious on us, and that he’ll still dunk the football over the goalpost crossbar when he catches a pass and takes it to the house.
If you’re watching the linemen and hear a loud "ooh" from the other side of the field, there’s a good chance it’s because No. 1 made another spectacular grab.
Kicker competition: Scott Enos is a pit bull, so you know he won’t give up his place-kicking job without a fight. But they brought in a ringer: Tyler Haddon, who was rated the top high school kicker in California last year and 10th in the nation.
Anything is possible when thunder-legged Alex Dunnachie punts; but way fewer shanks last spring, and he’s learned to make the ball die in front of the goal line.
Quarterback derby: Bryant Moniz comes in as the odds-on favorite to retain his starting spot. But if history is any indication, Brent Rausch will look terrific in several practices and Shane Austin probably will, too. And David Graves has the "it" factor.
Coaches and observers: Bring a little kid, and Greg McMackin will playfully offer him a scholarship. Try to be within earshot of Mouse Davis; he’s good for at least two funny one-liners an hour. Normally mild-mannered defensive coordinator Dave Aranda undergoes a personality change while instructing his players, often screaming, "VIOLENCE!"
And you never know when former UH coach Dick Tomey will stop by. Many former players do, too, and most of them are happy to talk story with fans. Jesse Sapolu’s son, London, is on the team now, so don’t be surprised if you see Jesse.
Garbage pail toss: It’s worth sticking around until the end to see if the quarterbacks make their long-bomb throws for the gray buckets.
Offensive coordinator Nick Rolovich was the ace of this drill a decade ago. Now he runs it.