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Kalani Simpson

Sidelines

By Kalani Simpson

Saturday, November 3, 2001


Everything different
now for Warriors

IT was just over a month ago that it was all falling apart. Kevin Lempa was embattled. Nick Rolovich had a broken finger. Mike Iosua was out, and they were lining up everyone they could find, converting guys, recruiting guys, to play inside ahead of Lance Samuseva.

Travis Laboy only looked good standing on those sidelines and riding that exercise bike. La'anui Correa was on the field but not in the game. Pisa Tinoisamoa was in and out. Chris Brown was being blocked.

Mike Bass was still a big maybe. Ashley Lelie was a big could be. Make that should be.

The line was leaking.

Hawaii was losing.

And June Jones was an emperor wearing very little clothing.

And now?

Well, as they say, things are different now.

The defense is different now. The defense is making plays. All those guys are, with Iosua and Samuseva as the difference makers, the tone setters. Tackles make a 4-3 work, and those two are making it work.

Chris Brown is crushing people now. Tinoisamoa is there now, there with excellent timing. Laboy has proved to be a special talent, and he's still a presence even if he's no longer in the highlights every week. That guy can run. Correa, still my pick for most-improved player over the course of this season, has become a tough customer who can grab big plays by the throat.

Before the Rice game, I called Nate Jackson UH's best defensive player (by far) and I was right. But now he might not be. And even if he still is, the cavalry has arrived.

UH has a defense now.

Lempa has a defense now. He lives his life in sunshine now. No longer in the shadow of Greg McMackin. Or Cal Lee.

These guys love each other now. They play for each other now.

Rolo's finger feels just fine. Bass and Lelie? Big and Bigger.

The line is still not the Washington Hogs. And it won't be. (And Vince Manuwai is no Jesse Sapolu. Not yet.) But they're playing together, and that's what works. That's what counts.

And Jones? It looks like he can coach a little after all.

Things are very different now.

Now? You can't wait to get to the stadium for Saturday game day now. Anything can happen. How did that happen?

This is Jones' season.

This is his signature season.

Forget 1999 for a second, if you can. That year may have been more about Fred vonAppen's failings than June Jones' successes. Less about winning, more about being tired of losing. Things were so bad that Jones was a genius just for walking through the door, just for being positive and different and competent and new. And, yes, they won nine games, and that's not easy, and give them credit for that.

But this is where Jones proves himself. He's not a genius, not a savior, not a saint. But he just might be a pretty good coach. And this is what happens when you give a good coach everything he wants.

Things are very different now.



Kalani Simpson's column runs Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays.
He can be reached at ksimpson@starbulletin.com



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