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Associated Press voters return UH to Top 25

Stephen Tsai

A memorable — and improbable — Thanksgiving weekend concluded with Hawaii earning a No. 25 ranking yesterday in the Associated Press’ Top 25 college football poll.

"It shows all of the hard work in the offseason is paying off," UH slotback Greg Salas said. "We’re getting a little bit of recognition across the country."

The Warriors’ first national ranking since January 2008 came a day after they defeated New Mexico State, 59-24, to clinch a share of the Western Athletic Conference’s regular-season championship. And that scenario was made possible when Nevada upset Boise State on Friday night. UH, Nevada and Boise State each have one WAC loss. The league does not have a tiebreaker formula, and awards trophies to each co-champion.

"It’s kind of crazy how this weekend ended up," Salas said. "After Friday night, after the Boise loss, things kind of changed. We were happy to be WAC champs. That was one of our goals. And now, to get this (ranking). It’s crazy."

Safety Spencer Smith said: "As a team, we’ll take winning the WAC over a Top 25 ranking. Now we have both."

Defensive tackle Kaniela Tuipulotu recalled the summer of school, weight training and running in the humidity while friends were at the beach.

"You want to be there with your friends, but you’re doing something they can never do," Tuipulotu said. "They all know that we’re doing things to represent. Our friends and family support us. They know we’re doing it for everyone in the state. It’s worth the sacrifices when you get to see the benefits."

Smith suffered a fractured right forearm in the season’s second game. He missed the next seven games while frenetically trying to rehabilitate.

"I would drink extra milk," Smith said. "I took calcium pills. Whether it worked physically or not, it helped me mentally. I did it to play with the boys one last time. I’m a senior. This is the last (UH) team I’ll get to play with. I wanted to be part of this. This is a special team. The (AP) voters saw that. We have to prove it again (against Nevada-Las Vegas on Saturday) and in the bowl game. It doesn’t mean anything unless we keep winning."

This is Greg McMackin’s third season as UH head coach and fifth with the program. The Warriors won a share of the WAC title in 1999 and the league championship outright in 2007 when he was the defensive coordinator.

"This (WAC title) is really special to me because everybody thought we were going to be a bunch of dogs, including the (WAC) coaches," McMackin said, a reference to the predicted fifth-place finish in the coaches’ preseason poll. "The press picked us seventh of eight. This team has been close. We adopted the ‘We Are One’ theme. … We tried to get better and better. And that’s what we’ve done."

McMackin said it was challenging to replace June Jones, who accepted the head coaching job at Southern Methodist a week after the Warriors’ loss in the 2008 Sugar Bowl.

"It’s tough to follow a 12-0 (regular) season, and just getting the people back," McMackin said.

The past offseason, he changed offensive and defensive coordinators, and replaced the Warriors’ primary strength coach.

"I had to make some changes that weren’t fun, for the betterment of the program," McMackin said. "The program is the most important thing."

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