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Thursday, April 29, 2004



[UH FOOTBALL]




Slot position
getting crowded

A number of players are vying
for the two starting positions, and
many of them are looking good


Jason Ferguson is doing his best to make Ron Lee's good problem an even better one. So are Blake Harano and Patrick Olchovy.

Lee, the Hawaii receivers coach, has more slotbacks than slots for them. And that's just for starters.

The Warriors have four returnees (Nate Ilaoa, Britton Komine, Chad Owens and Gerald Welch) for the two inside receiver spots who have combined for more than 300 catches in their careers.

"And we have a couple of receivers coming in (the fall)," Lee said. "It's a tremendous competition."

We haven't even gotten to the guys who are actually playing the positions this spring.

Relative unknowns like Ferguson and walk-ons Harano and Olchovy are getting most of the repetitions. Lee and head coach June Jones are pleased with their progress.

Ferguson debuted two practices ago after spraining an ankle the week before spring practice started.

"It's still a little sore, but that's how it's going to be. But I made up my mind I had to come back before the end of spring practice (Saturday)," the 5-foot-5, 154-pound Ferguson said. "Mental reps are different. The only way to really learn something is to get in there and take those plays. The competition makes you focus on every play, or somebody else is going to do it and they'll get the job."

But are there any jobs to be had? Statistically, Owens is one of the best receivers in the nation. Komine and Welch have both been dependable players for several years. Ilaoa is a potential star who now has three more years of eligibility after the NCAA granted him a medical hardship waiver for missing all but one game of last season.

The four veterans have sat out most of the team action this spring, partly because they are recovering from nagging injuries, and partly because Jones and Lee know what they can do.

Lee said Harano and Olchovy have made the team and will be in fall camp when the new recruits come in and the Warriors are limited to 105 players.

Harano (5-5, 145, senior) was impressive in fall camp last year, but fell victim to the logjam at slot.

Olchovy (5-8, 160, freshman) is a walk-on who played running back in high school.

Both have done well this spring. It's no guarantee of playing time in the fall, but they, along with Ferguson, will add depth. And Lee hasn't ruled it out that they could play.

"It's still early," he said. "We've got summer, August. Things are still up in the air."

Komine has been impressed by all three.

"Blake has had an awesome spring. Probably the best of the slots. He wasn't as confident with the system last fall. But now he doesn't have to think and he just catches the ball and makes a play. Jason Ferguson looks like he has a bright future. Patrick always plays hard, and he's quick. He's ready to learn," Komine said of his understudies.

Jackson sighting: Incoming transfer defensive tackle Austin Jackson has been in town the past week.

His father, former NFL offensive lineman Melvin Jackson, spoke to the team last week.

Wishes granted: In addition to Ilaoa, defensive back Kenny Patton and punter Tim Wright were granted medical hardship waivers by the NCAA yesterday.

Ilaoa and Patton have three more years or eligibility and Wright has two.

There is no word yet on defensive tackle Lui Fuga's request for another year. If Fuga's request is not granted, his college playing career is done.



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