Warriors, Aztecs motivated for finale
Hawaii plays for its seniors, while SDSU plays for its coaches
Hawaii plays for its seniors tonight.
So does San Diego State -- as well as for its coaches.
The Warriors (4-7) and Aztecs (5-6) meet tonight at Aloha Stadium in a game that wraps up Championship Saturday but means little in the standings and nothing in the national picture. It does, however, mean everything to its participants playing their final games in these uniforms. And SDSU coach Tom Craft could be on his way out, win or lose.
Washington won't be coming in 2006
A proposed football game matching Hawaii and Washington at Aloha Stadium next season won't be happening.
UH athletic director Herman Frazier said last month he was close to sealing a deal to play the Huskies at the end of the 2006 season. But UW decided it doesn't want to play at UH at this point, a Washington source said.
"(Washington athletic director) Todd Turner called Herman last week and said they might have an issue and they'd get back, but they haven't called back yet," UH spokeswoman Lois Manin said last night.
Frazier had also hoped to book basketball games against Washington on the same weekend.
The Warriors have nonconference football games slated at Alabama and at home against UNLV and Purdue next year. They still need two more games to fill a 13-game schedule.
UH coach June Jones said he received an e-mail from South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier about the possibility of playing a game there because the Gamecocks dropped a game against Central Florida. But a UH game at South Carolina would take a lot of schedule adjusting, since the schools' bye weeks don't match.
UH coach June Jones, though, has job security and quite possibly happy trails ahead. Most of the offense, which averages 466 yards per game, returns in 2006, plus a defense that can only get better, especially if defensive coordinator Jerry Glanville returns for a second season.
But even with a win tonight, it will be a bittersweet departure for the Hawaii seniors. Despite participating in four winning seasons (counting 2001, when many redshirted) and three bowl games, many of the veterans did not play major roles in this transition season.
Outside linebackers Kila Kamakawiwo'ole and Tanuvasa Moe and safety Lono Manners are among the exceptions, and Glanville got teary-eyed talking about them last week.
Moe, also a valuable contributor early in his career as a long-snapper, would have liked a winning record as a senior.
"I think I got a curse. Seems like I can't win a championship," Moe said. "But I don't take records as the important thing. I take relationships made. And it's been awesome overall. Three bowl games and 36 wins, things you can't replace."
Nate Ilaoa, is also a senior starter (joined on offense by center Derek Fa'avi and right guard Brandon Eaton). But he's in some strange Neverland as a running back in a passing offense. He did not play most of the second half of UH's 41-24 loss to Wisconsin last week.
He leads UH with 492 yards on the ground. Some fans, including Moe, have said Ilaoa should be in the game more.
"I just wanted to make sure he got his due share of recognition because he inspires me," Moe said, referring to his emotional speech in appreciation of Ilaoa after the Badgers game.
Jones said he didn't mind Moe voicing his opinion.
"I like watching Nate run too, like all the players do. But when you're behind, you can't always run," Jones said.
Ilaoa, who carried seven times for 68 yards last week, said he's happy with his role.
"I'm not getting paid to call the shots. That's Coach's job. It's fine with me; he's got to do what he's got to do," said Ilaoa, who is among four UH seniors who will petition the NCAA for an additional season of eligibility because of injuries.
Ilaoa, safety Leonard Peters, running back Bryan Maneafaiga and wide receiver Ian Sample will not participate in the senior walk after the game. They'll learn in the spring if they get another year.
The seniors are appreciated by Jones and their younger teammates.
"They've always been positive. I don't have any problems with anything they've been about. Great kids and always been good examples for the younger kids," Jones said.
Sophomore Colt Brennan arrived in the spring and moved to the top of the quarterback depth chart with second-year freshman Tyler Graunke, passing seniors Jeff Rhode and Kainoa Akina, who have played in one game between them this year.
"Our seniors have been so good to us this year," said Brennan, who leads the Western Athletic Conference with 361.4 yards passing per game. "It's been a frustrating year for everyone, especially them. They were a part of so many bowl games and wins, we want to send them out on the right note."
The last time Jones and Craft met, they were teammates. They finished second in a coaches' golf tournament at Pebble Beach in the offseason.
"I missed a 25-foot putt by inches, but June more than made up for my deficiencies," Craft said.
Between shots, the two former quarterbacks talked about -- what else? -- quarterbacks, including Craft's son, Kevin, whom Jones was interested in recruiting (Kevin Craft ended up at San Diego State). The subject of Craft's job security didn't come up.
"You really don't give a lot of focus or energy to it," Craft said. "The No. 1 thing is the players and re-establishing the program. You don't even think about that. We're trying to win our sixth of nine games and third in a row and go from there."
San Diego State quarterback Kevin O'Connell said the Aztecs will be playing for Craft and his assistants tonight.
"We have 100 percent faith in our coaches, and we feel we've been prepared as well as we can be," he said. "Something like this is what you make of it. It makes you stick close together as a team."
All coaches know most eventually leave on their shield. The time for sentimentality is the postgame handshake.
"I worry about our team," Jones said. "Any time it's a home game you have to win."