University of Hawaii football team finding solutions to their depth issues
Michael Eletise, Eugene Ford, Pumba Williams and Andrew Choi have filled in for wounded Warriors.
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Unfazed by a shortage of starters, the Hawaii football team has found solutions with a depth-consolidation plan.
Defensive coordinator Corey Batoon said cross-training and a next-man-up mentality have helped fill positions vacated by ailing players.
In last Saturday’s victory over UNLV, Michael Eletise stepped in for left guard J.R. Hensley, Eugene Ford moved from nickelback to Kalen Hicks’ strong-safety spot, and Pumba Williams and Andrew Choi covered for hybrid end Kaimana Padello.
“With a guy like Kaimana, you need two guys to replace him,” said Jacob Yoro, who coaches the combo linebacker-end position.
The Rainbow Warriors are prepared to fill potential voids in the starting lineup in Saturday’s game against San Diego State at Aloha Stadium. The winner claims the West Division title and a berth in the accompanying Mountain West Conference championship game.
After Hensley departed during Saturday’s game, Eletise was summoned. The Kaiser High alumnus, who transferred from Arizona in August, missed the first five games while awaiting a waiver that would allow him to play this season. He played more than 50 snaps against UNLV after logging about 20 snaps in each of the previous two games.
“He’s far along,” offensive line coach Mark Weber said of Eletise. “He’s done a nice job. He needs to get reps and stay dialed in during practice, but he’s ready to go.”
Hicks has missed the past four games, prompting the Warriors to rotate replacements. But it appears Ford provides the best option if Hicks is not available. Ford, a junior, was a cornerback until moving to nickelback in last season’s ninth game. “Now you have more room guarding certain guys (tight ends, inside receivers) in different man coverages,” Ford said of the move to nickel. “You have to adjust the tempo.”
Ford said it was an easier transition to safety, where he can play in coverage and move into the tackle box as a run defender or blitzer.
“Gene is comfortable playing the nickel and safety,” said Batoon, who also tutors the defensive backs. “It highlights some of his strengths in being a good tackler. He has good instincts around the ball. It’s been good. We’re not very deep. Guys have to play multiple roles.”
It was a bit more complicated replacing Padello, who is the Warriors’ best pass rusher. In his hybrid role, Padello’s responsibilities are to pressure the quarterback, seal the edge, defend perimeter runs, and cover the flats.
It was decided to move Williams, who used to play hybrid, from strong-side end, a defensive-line position known as the “bandit.”
“Pumba was with me last year, (and) he kind of ate his way into the defensive-line room,” Yoro said of Williams’ 20-pound gain during the offseason.
But even at 260-plus pounds, the 6-foot-2 Williams maintained his speed and athleticism. He was recruited to UH as safety.
“Pumba is smart and extremely knowledgeable of our schemes,” Yoro said of the fifth-year senior. “He’s like another coach on the field. He has a lot of experience under his belt.”
On passing downs, Williams yielded to Choi, a 6-foot, 230-pound, second-year freshman. On the first day of player-run practices in 2018, Padello welcomed Choi.
“He was the first person to come up to me, and help me through everything,” Choi said.
From Padello, Choi learned hand fighting, dips, and speed moves. Choi also took boxing lessons during the summer. “It helps with the hand-eye coordination,” Choi said.
On a third-and-5 against UNLV, Choi sacked quarterback Kenyon Oblad for a 7-yard loss.
“He took a knack to the pass-rush situations we put him in,” Batoon said of Choi. “He has kind of a natural feel for it. He has really good instincts.”