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Warriors ready for season opener

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    UH quarterback Max Wittek during Monday’s practice.
    UH running back Pereese Joas.

On a chilly March morning, the University of Hawaii football team warmed up to music blaring from a portable speaker at Ching field.

The same tune looped for the one-hour conditioning session.

It was Colorado’s fight song.

Six months later, the Rainbow Warriors get to meet the team of their dreams — or, at least, subconscious — in Thursday’s season opener at Aloha Stadium. Kickoff is at 7 p.m. Hawaii time (or 1 a.m. Friday for East Coast nocturnal viewers).

"We’re ready," said Max Wittek, who starts at quarterback for the Warriors. "It’s been a while."

It has been 278 days since the Warriors finished a 4-9 season, Norm Chow’s third as head coach. It’s been two years since Wittek, who redshirted in 2014 after transferring from USC, played in an NCAA game. It’s been four years for slotback Dylan Collie, who redshirted at Brigham Young in 2012 before going on a two-year church mission.

"I’ve put a bunch of miles on my body," Collie said. "I’ll be ready to go on Thursday. That’s all that matters. I’ve waited too long for this."

In a hectic offseason, Chow hired five coaches, including three coordinators — Don Bailey on offense, Tom Mason on defense, and Jake Cookus on special teams. Bailey has implemented a no-huddle, line-up-quickly offense that makes use of Wittek’s powerful arm, receivers’ depth, and new emphasis on a tight end that is as much a receiving threat as a blocker.

Wittek was given an extended grace period, which he used during spring training, to adjust to the intricacies of the spread offense. Interceptions were not condoned, but not benchable acts, either.

"There always has to be a learning curve," Bailey said.

During training, there was a 21/2-week period when Wittek was intercepted only once in 11-on-11 sessions. Wittek threw deep by design, short when the wideouts were blanketed, and out of bounds when the pass rush was within breathing distance. Bailey was as pleased as possible with the progress.

"As coaches, we’re the pessimists," Bailey said. "We always think there’s one more ‘T’ to cross, one more ‘I’ to dot. That never ends. But I like our mental approach on how we’re going about our business."

Mason implemented most of his attacking 3-4 defense in spring training. It is a scheme largely influenced by Dick LeBeau, who built the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defenses. Mason said it takes athletic ability, physical fitness and a high football IQ to grasp the concepts. Mason said the Warriors picked up the scheme quickly.

Mason said it took nearly two years for SMU players to "totally" understand the defense, noting the Mustangs once had "18 mistakes in a row" against Rice.

"Shoot," Mason said of the Warriors, "these kids got it in half a year. … They know what they’re doing."

The Warriors will be tested against Colorado’s balanced offense. CU wideout Shay Fields said the goal is between 10 and 15 seconds from placement to snap; 15 to 17 seconds if the wideouts are in pre-snap motion.

>> 7 p.m. Thursday
>> Aloha Stadium
>> Radio: KKEA, 1420-AM

"We’re a pretty fast-paced spread team," Fields said.

The Buffaloes, who were 2-10 in coach Mike MacIntyre’s third season, believe this is the breakout year.

"Everybody feels it," Fields said. "Everybody is counting us out. We have the facilities. We have the players. We have the coaches. Why not the games?"

In anticipation of Hawaii’s humidity and possibility of rain, the Buffaloes had sessions when they practiced with a wet ball. They also scrapped beach plans.

"We’re not focused on Hawaii as a sightseeing place at all," defensive back Chidobe Awuzie said. "It’s all business. It’s all football."

Although both teams have extensively studied the archives, there should be surprises.

"Every year is a new year," Wittek said. "We don’t have film from this year to see what they’re doing. … We have two new coordinators. They don’t know what fully to expect from us. We’ll see."

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