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Leonard hurt; center job still open

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Brett Leonard will miss at least a few practices after spraining his left knee yesterday.
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Brett Leonard sprained his knee at practice, keeping the starting job up in the air.

The final University of Hawaii starting football job — center — remains in question after Brett Leonard sprained his left knee during yesterday’s practice.

Leonard had an MRI yesterday. Early indications are that there is no significant damage, although Leonard is expected to miss at least a few practices.

Leonard was poised to be named the starting center when he was injured during a limited-contact drill.

"It was a safe deal," head coach Greg McMackin said of the drill. "And he was wearing (knee) braces. It was one of those freak deals. You get them sometimes."

Line coach Gordy Shaw said Leonard was having a good practice until that point. Shaw said the coaches were "working our way" to announcing a starting center after yesterday’s practice.

In Leonard’s absence, senior Bronson Tiwanak will make the majority of snaps in practice. London Sapolu, who transferred from a junior college in January, and Chauncy Winchester-Makainai, a freshman, also will work at center. Winchester-Makainai worked out at center during unsupervised practices this summer, but struggled with the play-calling. He had missed some drills in training camp because of a minor ailment.

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"The pressure really falls on Chauncy," Shaw said. "He’ll have to pick it up. He’s a few reps away, but he’s coming on, now that he’s made five practices in a row."

The past couple of weeks, Shaw had Leonard, Tiwanak, guard Brysen Ginlack and right guard Adrian Thomas rotate at the three interior line positions. Thomas was established as the No. 1 right guard. Ginlack, who can play both guard positions, was battling Leonard at left guard. Leonard also was competing against Tiwanak at center.

This week, Ginlack was designated as the No. 1 left guard. Leonard was going to be named the No. 1 center, until Shaw decided to extend the competition.

With Leonard’s setback, Shaw mused, "Now I look like a genius" for rotating players.

Shaw said the plan was to give those four players sufficient reps with the first unit.

"The thought all along was: the odd man out was the next guy in," Shaw said. "It didn’t matter if it was the left guard or the right guard or the center. The next guy in was going to the spot he plays best, and everybody else will move over."

Shaw said Tiwanak is capable of filling the role vacated when Matagisili Lefiti had foot surgery in May. Lefiiti said he will not return until the fourth game of the season.

"We’ll be OK with Bronson," Shaw said. "I like Bronson a lot. He was the starting center coming into (training) camp."

Tiwanak said it "killed the mood of practice" when Leonard crumpled to the damp ground.

"You never want to see a teammate go down, especially a fellow offensive lineman."

Lefiti, who has tutored Tiwanak and Leonard, said Tiwanak can handle the position.

"He’s a hard worker," Lefiti said of Tiwanak. "He’s never late. He’s the last to leave. He’s motivated. You can count on him."

As a walk-on who cannot participate in the training-table meals, Tiwanak is "hungry," Lefiti said. "Literally, and all that. He wants it. He’s going to be good."


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