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Thursday, October 2, 2003



[UH FOOTBALL]



art
GEORGE F. LEE / GLEE@STARBULLETIN.COM
Ikaika Curnan said going from the top of the high school football world to the bottom of the college ranks was like going "back to elementary."



Starting
all over again

High school All-American
Ikaika Curnan had to begin
at the bottom at UH, but now
he's a starter once again


As a prep standout at Saint Louis School, Ikaika Curnan enjoyed the view from the top.

Curnan spearheaded the Crusaders defense, was the consensus state defensive player of the year as a junior and was named an All-American as a senior.

But when the linebacker joined the Hawaii football program in the fall of 2001, Curnan was back at the bottom of the heap as a green freshman.

"I had to start all over again, back to elementary," Curnan said. "You just have to adjust, wait for your time and make the most of it."

Curnan is trying to claw his way back to the top this season and enters Saturday's Western Athletic Conference game at Tulsa coming off the best game of his college career.

The third-year sophomore has started all four games at the Will linebacker spot and recorded a career-high 10 tackles -- two for losses, including a sack -- in Hawaii's 41-21 win over Rice last Saturday. He shared time with Lincoln Manutai, who finished with four tackles.

"He's played real well the last couple of weeks, him and Lincoln Manutai," UH coach June Jones said. "I think they're getting comfortable with what we're doing and learning and just getting better."

Curnan stepped into the Will position when Pisa Tinoisamoa opted to enter the NFL Draft over playing his final year of eligibility at UH. With Chris Brown and Matt Wright also completing their college careers, Curnan is part of a linebacker corps deep in potential, but continuing to develop as a unit.

"Those three guys we had last year were great players with big shoes to fill and we're trying to do that right now," Curnan said.

Curnan entered UH with lofty credentials following high school and redshirted his first season. He hoped to see some playing time last year until a knee injury derailed his plans.

"Last year I was all excited about the season and my knee got hurt and things went downhill a little bit," he said. "But now I'm trying to get back to the top and improve."

Curnan, generously listed at 5-foot-11, said it has taken a little while for him to get comfortable in the Warriors' schemes following the departure of defensive coordinator Kevin Lempa. Although he has proved adept as a run stopper, he admitted that dropping into pass coverage remains a challenge.

But as he has grown more familiar with the system, the more he resembles the player UH linebackers coach Cal Lee remembers during his days at Saint Louis.

"As a linebacker, he's as physical as you're going to get and he can run," Lee said. "The only downside, if there is one, is his height, but he overcomes that with his football sense.

"He's not 6-4, but I'll take his toughness, his being physical and his ability to run to the ball, which is something some of those big guys can't do."

Curnan said representing his home island of Kauai is part of his motivation to perform this season. He grew up on the Garden Isle and enrolled at Saint Louis as a sophomore. He said he looked up to previous Kauai natives who played for UH and enjoys his role as the latest in that line.

"It's a little different when you go back to the island," he said. "Everybody sees you on TV a little bit, so it's different, because Kauai is so isolated. The people are real proud, so I'm just trying to make them happy and be a good role model to them."

Injury update: Receiver Jeremiah Cockheran's sprained right ankle improved enough for him to stay off the stationary bike yesterday, but not enough for him to participate in team drills.

The Warriors' leading pass catcher dressed for practice, but spent the morning watching Sean Stennis and Michael Miyashiro split repetitions at the right wide receiver position.

Stennis made a couple of nice catches during the workout, using his speed to get behind the secondary and hauling in deep passes.

Offensive lineman Jeremy Inferrera recovered enough from a sore foot earlier in the week to return to practice at left tackle. Brandon Eaton, who sat out last week's game with a sprained ankle, was back at right tackle.

For a moment, it looked like defensive tackle Isaac Sopoaga had made a miraculous recovery from a knee injury that was expected to keep him out one to two weeks when No. 97 was spotted along the defensive front. But Sopoaga had merely switched jerseys with Lui Fuga, who shook off a sore ankle to participate in practice at Sopoaga's spot.

Short yardage: The Warriors left for the mainland last night. The team will spend a day in Houston before heading to Tulsa on a charter flight tomorrow. They return to Honolulu on Sunday afternoon. ... Talk of Ikaika Alama-Francis possibly moving to receiver didn't result in any changes yesterday as the 6-foot-7 former basketball player continued to work with the scout team at defensive end.



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