SOMETHING was different about Kevin Lempa as the camera crews crowded around him, the light shining on his face Saturday night.
UH defense can feel
good about Rice game
It was remarkable. This was not the same battered and beleaguered soul we had seen a week earlier. The changes were subtle, perhaps almost imperceptible, but they spoke volumes. Something was different. You could just see it.
Hawaii's defense had delivered. His boys had finally done it. You could see it on Lempa's face, in his posture, hear it in his voice. Even the air around him seemed fresher. He had experienced a breakthrough, and now he looked like a new man. Sweet redemption.
"I was beat up," he says. "I was beat up the week before. I felt like I got beat up the week before."
He'd carried a cloud. For two years Rice had run all over Hawaii, and everyone knew what was coming. It was only a week earlier that UH's defense had been stampeded, embarrassed, at Nevada. Here we go again. UH can't stop anybody. Everybody knew it. Everybody heard it. Even Lempa.
"That's the rap," Lempa says. "Everyone's against us. We can't stop the run."
This is the man who has to live with this, who has to turn it around, who has to deal with three and out and back out there, who is in the shadow of the ghost of Greg McMackin.
Then Saturday night happened. First one big play. Then another. Then it was infectious, and then the option stalled and Lempa's guys were getting excited. His plan was working. His guys were playing. They were believing.
"I had a feeling during the game," he says. "You could tell during the game that there was confidence."
They needed it, because everything that could go wrong on the other end of the ball, did -- blocked kicks, interceptions. Time and again, Lempa's guys were back out there, backing up a short field. "That's tough," Lempa says. "That's a tough year. And those guys (Rice) are automatics. In the red zone they're going to score."
But they didn't.
Lempa's guys passed the test. Answered the call. And it changed them.
"I can just tell," Lempa says. There's a new feeling now. Something different about them. They're new men. They have something to feel good about.
"Our kids need that," Lempa says. "Our players need that. They really need it."
Lempa knows the feeling. One game can make that kind of a difference. It can. It did with him. But he knows it's too soon to celebrate. They need to feel it every week.
"It's a step in the right direction," he says. "That's all it is."
But a big one.
Kalani Simpson's column runs Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays.
He can be reached at email@example.com