Kalani Simpson

Friday, September 23, 2005

Hawaii’s volunteer army

NONE of this is a slam on anyone who didn't get a full-ride coming out of high school. Lord knows, I was not exactly a first-round draft pick.

Walk-ons make plays that win games. Walk-ons are the greatest stories in sports. Walk-ons are the soul of college football.

Ashley Lelie and Chad Owens were walk-ons.

It doesn't get any better than that.

Let's be honest -- any national notice, glory, hype, highlight, publicity, momentum, custom-made home bowl games -- basically anything to do with ESPN giving Hawaii love, really, in the past five years -- can be directly traced to those two guys. Chad Owens. Ashley Lelie.


But now here we are today, the day before the Idaho game, and we're looking at UH's defensive lineup. And we're wondering how in the world so many Cinderella stories just happen to be happening all at once.

And wondering, beyond the Disney aspect of these fairy tales, what this means, exactly.

One walk-on in the lineup is cause for celebration. Several might be cause for concern.

What does this say about the talent level? How is it that Hawaii apparently doesn't have scholarship recruiting-class guys good enough to hit the field in these spots? How does this happen?

For Hawaii defensive coordinator Jerry Glanville, questions like these are mildly annoying at best, borderline offensive at worst. These are the guys he has. They've earned their spots through hard work. Besides, he's new. He doesn't know who signed a letter of intent or who sent in a postcard. Can't tell one from another and doesn't care.

Put it this way: He hasn't been reading any recruiting magazines.

"You'll love me," Glanville says. "I don't even know who a walk-on or who a scholarship guy is. I tell you, in pro football, once you were with us, it doesn't really matter where you were drafted or if you're a free agent. And you have to remember about evaluating talent -- production sometimes gets lost in football for athletic ability. And I'm always more interested in production."

That's great. Production. I love production. Everybody loves production. Production is one thing -- if guys light people up out there, are playing because they look like the next Rich Miano, because you just can't keep them off the field.

It's another if you have a walk-on in there because a walk-on is the best guy you've got. Because the scholarship guy just hasn't been good enough to beat him out.

Here it is. If a walk-on is starting, nine times out of 10, it means one of two things: Either a) you were wrong about him, or b) you were wrong about somebody else.

I like the first option better, myself.

To be fair, injury does play a part here. Bad luck. Leonard Peters is out, and as Glanville says, "There's only one Leonard. If there were two I'd have the other one in there."

He didn't just run fast, either. Apparently he'd gotten to the point where he made others better, lined everyone up. That messes with everyone's mojo. You have to go with who can best handle the job without Peters' help.

And Keala Watson was a big recruit out of Nanakuli, and we haven't seen him yet. The other day he tripped over an ice bucket and hurt himself. Now his lower half is better, but ...

"He's big and he can run," Glanville says. "Unfortunately he has one hand."

The poor guy can't catch a break.

So yes, these things are complicated. There are extenuating circumstances for many of these guys. But still, the questions remain. What happened with all these latest, greatest recruiting classes? Where are the blue-chip recruits we've heard so much about? Where are the fast 40s and "NFL bodies"?

You can find too many of them with the 2s and 3s.

Sounds like UH could do with more top recruits like No. 41, linebacker Solomon Elimimian (who is the brother of another top UH recruit, Abraham Elimimian): "Mentally he is not a rookie," Glanville says. "Mentally, he is not a second-year guy. Mentally, 41 is like a third-year player."

Let's go back to where Glanville was talking about production, because he said something else, next, in the very same breath: "If you're a great athlete and you don't know where to go I'd rather have a guy like me (63 years old, although he does jog regularly) who knows where to go and knows what to do."

So that's why some guys have the nod in a few spots. And congratulations to them, they've earned everything they have. Walk-ons are the soul of college football. The greatest story in sports.

Think about it: Chad Owens. Ashley Lelie. The two best players in the June Jones era have been walk-ons. But that in itself is a double-edged sword. And Hawaii fans have to hope it doesn't cut too deeply in the coming weeks.

See the Columnists section for some past articles.

Kalani Simpson can be reached at ksimpson@starbulletin.com

E-mail to Sports Desk


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