Being under full assault was a welcomed change for Tyler Hadden.
Coming off a redshirt year, the frontrunner to take over place-kicking duties for the Hawaii football team hadn’t seen a full rush in more than a year prior to last Saturday’s scrimmage in Hilo.
He passed his first live test by making kicks from 35 and 42 yards, boosting his confidence heading into his next opportunity in Friday’s Warrior Bowl scrimmage.
"I’m kind of out of a rhythm, but I’ll get back into it once I get more live reps," Hadden said. "It’s definitely nice to get back kicking live."
Hadden was expected to push Scott Enos for kicking duties when he signed with the Warriors last year coming off a heralded career at California (Whittier, Calif.) High School. An injury to his kicking leg suffered early in fall camp sidetracked those plans and he spent the season as a redshirt.
Now taking his second shot at his freshman season, Hadden is working to solidify his role as Enos’ successor as spring practice approaches its conclusion.
"I had to work hard and prove myself last week and again this week when we scrimmage," he said.
While Hadden allowed his injuries to heal, Enos completed his UH career by converting on 17 of 21 field goals and a school record 71 extra-point attempts last season. Enos set the UH single-season record for kicking points with 122 and set another mark by making all 105 PAT attempts in his two-year career.
Although a season on the sideline was tough, Hadden used the down time to learn from Enos through both words and action.
"He gave me a lot of tips and told me you can’t worry about other stuff," Hadden said. "You have to have a short memory as a kicker. If you miss a kick, you have to go out and make another kick."
Hadden appeared to be holding his own through the early days of fall camp, when he injured his hip flexor, groin and thigh on his kicking leg.
"It was a lot," he said of the concurrent injuries. "It wasn’t the first time, but it was probably the worst I’ve had it. I did rehab, made it stronger, so I haven’t had any problems with it since."
The redshirt year did give him a chance to acclimate to the program and adjust to the speed of the college level. He said his goal is to get his kicks away in less than 1.3 seconds from the snap and was at 1.19 during Saturday’s scrimmage. On kickoffs, he said he’s been hitting his goal of a 4-second hang time.
His increased role this spring has also given him a chance to develop a rhythm with snapper Luke Ingram and holders Shane Austin and Cayman Shutter.
"Luke’s a great snapper and he gets it there every time," Hadden said. "I just worry about me because I trust my holders, and Luke’s incredible with what he can do."
While he’s the only scholarship kicker on the roster, Hadden has competition this spring in sophomore Kyle Niiro and senior transfer Kenton Chun.
"They’re both great kickers," Hadden said. "It keeps me competing and keeps me on my toes."
Inside men on the outside
Senior defensive tackles Vaughn Meatoga and Kaniela Tuipulotu have been working through nagging injuries and watched most of yesterday’s practice at Ching Field. That opened the way for some of the unit’s younger players, such as freshman Moses Samia and sophomore Siasau Matagiese, to see more action.
"We have some depth and it’s good to get those guys some reps," defensive tackles coach Tony Tuioti said. "What we want to get out of this camp is to find some quality depth. It’s good to see the guys competing and want to get better."
Tuioti said Matagiese, a Waimea graduate who began his career at Portland State, has been one of the biggest surprises of the spring among the defensive linemen.
Meatoga and Tuipulotu participated in last week’s scrimmage and figure to be among the leaders of the defensive front when the fall comes around.
"They definitely make a difference up front when they’re in the game," Tuioti said. "Those guys are battle-tested guys and they understand schematically what they need to do and I think they know how to prepare themselves."