In the fall of 2006, when soap dispensers were not filled in the locker room showers and Cooke Field was condemned, two stars of that season — quarterback Colt Brennan and running back Nate Ilaoa — knew Hawaii’s football future would be bright.
Both marveled at the play of a freshman wide receiver who was redshirting and the determination of a running back who was a part-time student at the time.
"You could tell they had a lot of potential," Brennan said of current UH slotbacks Greg Salas and Kealoha Pilares.
Pilares and Salas are 1-2 nationally in receiver yards, with 682 and 604, respectively.
In Saturday’s 41-21 victory over Louisiana Tech, Pilares fashioned a school-record 18 catches for 217 yards and two touchdowns. Salas had 10 receptions — including a leaping one-handed grab — for 197 yards and two touchdowns.
"I’m not surprised," Brennan said of Salas’ theatrics. "Greg made big plays every day in practice."
In 2006, when Brennan compiled the best statistical single season by a quarterback in NCAA history, Salas was the left wideout on the scout team that faced the Warriors’ No. 1 defense every day in practice.
"Greg used to kill our first-team defense," Ilaoa recalled. "It was kind of funny, but when he first came, we didn’t know Greg’s last name. One of the guys thought his last name was ‘Salsa.’ We used to say, ‘There goes Salsa again.’ (The first-team offense) didn’t get to practice with him too much, but we always heard from the guys on defense that he was making the great catches. The stuff he does now doesn’t surprise me. He’s put in the hard work. I’m glad to see the rest of the nation is seeing it."
Brennan said Salas used to remind him of Danny Farmer, a former NFL receiver who holds UCLA’s career record for receiver yards.
"Greg is that truly great possession receiver who gets the ball," Brennan said. "He reminds me of those guys from Cali I grew up around. I always rooted for him. He’s talented, and he has a great personality. He’s really funny."
Pilares originally committed to the Air Force Academy. But after a brief time at the Prep Academy, he decided to transfer to UH. Because of the timing, he opted to grayshirt, paying his own way in the fall of 2006. He was not allowed to practice with the Warriors that semester.
"He was coming to meetings, trying to learn," Ilaoa said. "I knew he would be a good one because of his willingness to learn."
As a freshman in 2007, Pilares was named successor at running back to Ilaoa and Reagan Mauia, both of whom were selected in the NFL Draft.
"The way Kealoha handled himself, and the success he had so young, you knew the sky was the limit for the kid," Brennan said. "We were always impressed how he was maturing. He was one of our key weapons my senior year (in 2007)."
Brennan and Ilaoa said they continue to follow the Warriors. Brennan, who was cut by the Oakland Raiders at the end of training camp, is working out five days a week in Arizona. Ilaoa works for a company in Honolulu.
"I really like the possibilities of this team and what they can do," Brennan said. "Maybe they can create some upsets. They’ve built a foundation for some good football."
Ilaoa said: "The numbers these guys are putting up, I’m loving it. That’s the run-and-shoot for you. It’s great to see these guys putting up video-game numbers. I’m proud of them."