On a rainy evening of comebacks, the Hawaii football team welcomed a precise offense and the return of three key players.
For the only practice at Aloha Stadium before Thursday’s season opener against Southern California, the Warriors were impressive in going through a menu of situational offensive plays.
"We’re like a butterfly floating, and our offense stings like a bee," said quarterback Bryant Moniz, who completed 27 of 34 passes against a scout unit portraying USC’s defense.
The 2-hour practice marked the return of right tackle Laupepa Letuli, running back Alex Green and linebacker Aaron Brown.
Letuli had missed the previous three practices after injuring his leg during last Saturday’s practice. Letuli is a leader of an offensive line that was missing Brett Leonard.
Leonard, who was poised to become the No. 1 center, sprained his left knee during Wednesday’s practice. The severity has not been determined, although he is expected to miss practices today and tomorrow. Bronson Tiwanak was the center yesterday. Freshman Chauncy Winchester-Makainai took reps at right guard in place of starter Adrian Thomas.
Green also practiced for the first time since suffering a concussion and abrasions from a non-football-related accident last week. Green appeared to be back in form, catching two bubble screens and two shovel passes.
Brown, meanwhile, practiced for the first time this preseason. He had sprained his right ankle a few days before the start of training camp.
Brown, listed as a strong-side linebacker, has several roles as a blitzer and cover defender in the Warriors’ nickel schemes. He participated in several individual workouts, but was held out of full-speed individual drills because of the damp FieldTurf.
"He looked good in the limited amount of work he had," defensive coordinator Dave Aranda said.
Brown was one of the last players to leave the field, gazing at the empty stadium seats.
"It feels good to be out here where I belong," Brown said. "I’m happy to be out here with my teammates. I waited too long."
Brown said he agreed with the decision to limit his reps.
"I wanted to test my ankle out first," he said. "I didn’t want to jump into it. But it’s exciting to get to play again."
Because of the stadium renovations, the Warriors played their annual spring game on campus. This was their first appearance at Aloha Stadium since the season-ending loss to Wisconsin in December.
There are about 30 first-year Warriors on the roster. As the buses descended the driveway leading to the field, "a lot of the guys said they were starting to get the butterflies," head coach Greg McMackin said.
McMackin said he wanted to get the newcomers acclimated to the turf — which is considered to have better traction than the Ching Athletic Complex’s artificial surface — and the stadium’s lights and backdrops. Yesterday’s start of practice was the same time as next week’s 5 p.m. kickoff.
"We showed them the pregame routine, and where they needed to be for certain situations," McMackin said. "We got a lot of things done."
The offense was particularly sharp, especially during red-zone drills. In those situations, Moniz completed seven of nine passes, including scoring throws of 18, 16 and 10 yards.
"I feel like a million bucks," Moniz said after practice.
The drawback? Moniz, who lives in Wahiawa, had to return to Manoa to drop off his equipment.
"Other than that, it’s fun to play in this stadium," Moniz said. "You don’t know how many more games you get to play here. Our offense is looking crisp. We’re going to put up some numbers this year. It’s going to be good."
Slotback Kealoha Pilares added: "I can’t wait for the season to start. We’ve been looking forward to that day since spring ball. Every day we’ve been coming out and working hard. Everybody is hungry for that next Thursday."
LESS THAN SELLOUT
With less than a week before the season opener, the University of Hawaii is projecting a crowd of 43,000-45,000 for the Sept. 2 football game against 14th-ranked Southern California.
Athletic director Jim Donovan said approximately 37,600 tickets had been sold as of noon yesterday.
The total includes UH season tickets, individual sales and the 7,500 tickets allotted to USC.