CRAIG KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Nate Ilaoa put on weight while out with an injury last season, but the senior is working his way back into game shape.
to add power
The fifth-year senior is trying
to drop pounds while making
the conversion to running back
For many superb athletes, potential gradually gives way to the clock. It's ticking for Nate Ilaoa, the gem of Hawaii's 2001 recruiting class.
When Ilaoa, the Washington Post Metro Player of the Year, chose UH over schools like Oklahoma, Miami and Virginia Tech, it was one of the biggest recruiting coups in school history. The Warriors had the U.S. Marine Corps partly to thank, as Ilaoa's father, Filipo, had been recently assigned to Kaneohe, as the base's top enlisted man.
But Ilaoa was also attracted to UH's run-and-shoot offense, a scheme in which the explosive runner was expected to flourish as a slotback.
After a redshirt year, Ilaoa lived up to some of that promise in 2002. Despite a pop-goes-the-weasel subluxed shoulder, Ilaoa managed to play in 12 games, catching 46 passes for 532 yards and three touchdowns. He also rushed for a TD with 56 yards on six carries. He was on his way to stardom.
But in the 2003 season opener against Appalachian State, Ilaoa tore the ACL in his right knee. He missed the rest of that season, as well as all of last year.
Part of the reason he was out so long was that his weight ballooned to more than 250 pounds on a 5-foot-9 frame.
Yesterday, Ilaoa said he was down to "about 240" after his first official practice at his new position, running back. He said he hopes to get down to 220 by the beginning of the season.
The fifth-year senior should be at a point in his career where he has nothing to prove. But this spring is an important one for Ilaoa. Not only is he learning a new position, he is also working to regain his status as one of the Warriors' top offensive playmakers.
Coach June Jones believes he can do it.
"He ran around pretty good today," Jones said. "But he didn't do the team stuff today and we're not going to tackle him yet. He's OK to go, but we want to give him a chance to get used to being out there again."
With the season opener against USC still five months away, running backs coach Wes Suan agrees there's no hurry.
"There's really no reason to rush," Suan said. "Plus we've got some other kids who are trying to build their stock."
With Michael Brewster, West Keli'ikipi and Mike Bass gone from last year, opportunity abounds at running back. Bryan Maneafaiga, Kala Latuselu, Kona Quinabo, Dave Farmer and Alonzo Chopp "all had a pretty good day," Suan said.
Ilaoa still has a lot of work ahead of him, Suan said. The player left the practice field yesterday with a positive feeling.
"It's going good. It's more of a mental adjustment than anything. There are a lot of steps, a lot of technique. A lot of work you do on your own," Ilaoa said. "There are fewer plays (than at slotback), but it's more challenging."
As for the weight?
"I'm trying to get as low as I can, but I'm also lifting a lot to try to get stronger. I'm hoping to be at 220 by the start of the season, and I want it to be a good 220," Ilaoa said.
QBs even: After one practice, Jones said he still has five No. 1 quarterbacks in the race to replace five-year starter Tim Chang.
"They're all the same right now," Jones said of Kainoa Akina, Inoke Funaki, Tyler Graunke, Jack Rolovich and Jeff Rhode. "And all of them will get a chance again in the fall."