Friday, September 3, 1999
University of Hawaii Football
1999 season preview
Armed with new talent,By Paul Arnett
new coaches and a new
attitude, the only way for
the Rainbows to go is up
Emily Dickinson wrote a century or so ago that "Hope is the thing with feathers -- that perches in the soul."
It is certainly something that flew around the University of Hawaii long enough without ever actually landing. Maybe it's only wishful thinking that June Jones can provide the kind of leadership necessary to get this football team moving in a new direction.
And yet, over the past six months, he has gathered a faithful following. Perhaps not as large a number as the Jones camp had hoped, but a strong start for a program decimated this last half-decade by in-house bickering, slow decision-making and vision on the blink.
Other than lack of sleep, Jones doesn't look the worse for wear. He has mended more fences than a Nebraska farm boy and bitten down on more rubber chickens than a vaudevillian performer.
At the Na Koa Club dinner two weeks ago, he stood in front of 450 people and said, "I've talked so much the last six months, I don't have much left to say."
The only thing worthy of discussion has to be said on the football field. The players have talked the talk. They spoke of the survival and revival. More important, they swore an oath to the systems employed by Jones and defensive coordinator Greg McMackin.
"This is a whole new deal," said senior quarterback Dan Robinson, who can only thank a higher power for allowing him to seek and find a medical redshirt after a painful 1997 season. Without it, this native of American Fork, Utah, a raw-boned boy with an aw-shucks smile, would be down on the range working for his pa.
While Robinson took part in the summer fling of perfecting his timing routes with his receivers, he also spent some spiritual days and nights at Kualoa Ranch.
One weekend, he took his Boy Scout troop and lay under a spray of stars spread wide across the North Shore sky. The following day, they all went down to the swimming hole, hoping the catfish were jumping.
Robinson's love for Hawaii is reminiscent of Jones'. The coach was about the same age Robinson is now when he spent 1973-74 on former UH head coach Larry Price's sidelines. It was then and there that the future son of the run-and-shoot hoped one day he could call Hawaii home.
"We all know how much Coach Jones loves this place," Robinson said. "He gave up a lot to come here and turn around this program. I want to be a part of that. I want the freshmen to remember us as the class that helped them turn the corner."
Lately, it has been more like dead man's curve. Many a Rainbow player had his hopes dashed on the side of the road.
A half-dozen fifth-year seniors walked away from this accident, dazed and confused. They have waved goodbye to former head coaches Bob Wagner and Fred vonAppen, and said hello to Jones.
Counting their redshirt campaigns, these six seniors -- Daniel Ho-Ching, Chad Shrout, Tony Tuioti, Adrian Klemm, Kaulana Noa and "Big Red" Andy Phillips -- have been around nine wins and 39 losses.
"And it's for them that we're playing this season," Jones said. "These guys are warriors. They have been through a lot together, and with their help we're going to get this thing moving in the right direction. We're not waiting on anyone. If you can help us win, then you're on the field."
Just who among the newcomers will join the veteran cast for tomorrow's season opener with No. 19 Southern California depends on the situation.
McMackin already has added junior college transfers Shawndel Tucker and Dee Miller to his starting secondary. And freshman Lui Fuga, sophomore Mike Iosua and juniors Joe Correia and Doug Sims will see plenty of playing time along the defensive front.
"We've got some newcomers who have already made us better," McMackin said. "I have a good idea who is going to play and in what situation. And that's good. Our guys have worked hard all spring and fall camp, and we're the better for it."
The defense also has a bench full of younger players eager to fly around the new Aloha Stadium turf. Middle linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa has an excellent tutor in senior Jeff Ulbrich.
Young defensive backs Flex Armstrong, Tavis Campbell and Jacob Espiau can rely on veterans Ho-Ching, Phil Austin and Quincy LeJay to help show the way.
"We've got a good blend on defense," UH associate coach George Lumpkin said. "As a coach, you love a guy like Jeff because he's a true football player. He just loves the game of football and is willing to make the sacrifices to play the way it should be played."
The offensive side has its own brand of warriors. Starting with Klemm, Phillips, Noa and Dustin Owen up front, moving to wideout Dwight Carter, and winding up with Robinson under center, Jones has a good starting point for his run-and-shoot attack.
One problem for the offense is depth.
The No. 2 line isn't on the same step as the starters. Behind Robinson is a long list of unproven quarterbacks. And the wideouts are all so new, everybody needed the names to go with the numbers to sort out who was who.
"I believe we have a good blend on offense," Carter said. "It's up to us as seniors to show the young guys what's expected of them to play at this level."
"What's expected" is a tricky phrase, even for the veterans. As important as that group is, it's up to the newcomers to help move Hawaii in a positive direction.
Special teams will play a big part of phasing in the old with the new. First-year assistant coach Dennis McKnight is attempting to shore up a part of the program that has allowed a lot of water to go over the dam.
Here is where confidence can be built. After all, the fifth-year seniors are 5-31 on the field. They have been around for all of the 18 consecutive defeats, which is currently the longest losing streak in Division I football.
They also have taken part in the 24-game conference road skid. Not since a Halloween afternoon in 1992 at the Sun Bowl have the Rainbows won a league affair outside of Aloha Stadium. Just Lumpkin, and a select few of the training staff, were there for that win over Texas-El Paso.
Ho-Ching is the only remaining player to have taken part in the last road victory. But that 1995 win at Nevada-Las Vegas is bittersweet for Ho-Ching. Thanks to a bout with cancer, it would be his last game for two years.
"We have been through a lot together already," Ho-Ching said. "I guarantee I'm going to be a part of at least one more win on the road. All of our losing streaks are coming to an end this season."
And that's the kind of attitude Jones is trying to build. He has a young, enthusiastic coaching staff. Some have experience at the NFL level, both as players and assistants. Others are relying on high school, which is, as one assistant put it, "where all the great coaching begins."
"If we're going to get this thing moving in the right direction, it's up to the assistants to lay the groundwork," Jones said. "They are the teachers, the guys the players relate to.
"I'm not going to spend my time talking about all the negative things of the past. This is a new team trying to learn how to win again. It's a total effort. Number one, you have to have belief in yourselves as a team. We have to find that hope."
Dickinson not only spoke of hope, but what it felt like when it was conquered with the thought, "Success is counted sweetest by those who never succeed."
Jones is here to make success a part of this program once more. He has taken the first few tentative steps over the past six months. What's to follow will be revealed in time.