It was a hopeful — and predictable — first impression as the University of Hawaii football team opened training camp this morning on its grass practice field.
“I liked the energy,” head coach Todd Graham said of the 2-hour, limited-contact practice. “I liked the tempo on the field. There was nothing today I didn’t like other than the mental mistakes, which obviously you’re going to have.”
This training camp is much different from last year’s camp, which was twice delayed and eventually abbreviated because of the pandemic. Unlike last year, when the 2020 spring workouts were canceled, the Rainbow Warriors had a full offseason conditioning program and spring training preceding this camp.
“Lots of reps today,” said Graham, who wants to increase the tempo of the no-huddle offense. “Pretty fast-paced. I’m really impressed with our guys.”
Graham said he challenged his players to be “uncomfortable” in accepting greater responsibilities. “The key to our progression is our best players stepping out of their comfort zone,” Graham said. “You’ve got to have somebody to chase.”
Graham cited Calvin Turner, who led the Warriors with 11 touchdowns last year as a running back, receiver, wildcat quarterback and kickoff returner. This year, Turner will be the Warriors’ primary punt returner.
“Who is Calvin Turner chasing?” Graham said. “I tell him, ‘you’re chasing to be MVP of the league. You’re chasing to be undefeated champion of this league.’ Those guys set the standard. … Our best players have to come out there and serve. That means they have to work the hardest. … Whoever our best player is defines effort.”
The Warriors were in “spiders” — light upper-body padding — and helmets. During 11-on-11 drills, the “tag mode” was imposed, meaning there would be no take-down hits. Landon Keopple, the director of operations, announces the down-and-distance situations during scrimmage-like sessions. When the defense forced a turnover, a snippet of “Another One Bites the Dust” blared.
Graham, who oversees special teams, faced a good-news, not-so-good-news scenario when a kick was blocked to end the first practice. “I like it on defense when you block a kick on the first day,” Graham said. “I don’t like it when you’ve got a kick blocked.”
Graham praised the newcomers for being fit and picking up the plays. He said many of the freshmen are from winning programs that played deep into the postseason. Graham also said the returning players were helpful in showing “them the ropes.”
But the enthusiasm of the first practice was clouded by Thursday’s tragic accident in which a construction worker died after equipment fell on him at UH’s Clarence T.C. Ching Athletic Complex. The Ching facility is being retrofitted to serve as the site for the Warriors’ home football games this season. Aloha Stadium is unavailable for spectator-attended events because of structural concerns.
“It breaks your heart,” Graham said of the accident. “Our thoughts and prayers to his family.”