Courage misplaced under center
IN every camp, on every team, there are one or two guys who defy description, save for a single Maddenized, italicized term: football player
. As in, That guy ... he's just a football player.
Hyrum Peters was a football player. Lance Samuseva was a football player. There is no higher compliment.
They are rarely quarterbacks.
IT WAS THE final day of spring practice, the only full-contact scrimmage. The Hawaii defenders were anxious. They asked if they could hit the quarterback this time, if he was "live." It was a rhetorical question, really.
"We're never live on the quarterback," UH defensive coordinator Jerry Glanville says.
No, orange means untouchable in UH practice parlance. But they ask anyway, always, just to ask. Just because they wouldn't be defensive players if they didn't. It's a reflex. It's Pavlovian. They want to hit quarterbacks.
Last spring, they asked again. Of course. "Is it live on the quarterback?"
And that's when Inoke Funaki stepped forward, raised his hand.
"It is on me," he said.
It's live on him. This wasn't the coach saying this. It was the quarterback himself, stepping forward. Come hit me. Let's play some ball.
Have you ever heard of that?
"I've got more respect for him after our spring game ..." Glanville begins.
He giggles at the memory, when reminded how Funaki volunteered for target duty.
"Oh, he's different," Glanville says. "He's got great courage."
"He's got a big heart," linebacker Brashton Satele says. "Big heart."
Satele would be a good guy to ask about that, because he got in a few shots on Funaki in that scrimmage.
"Almost," Satele says.
"I don't know if I could tag him in a phone booth," Glanville says.
Yes, this guy is a football player.
"I think that I always thought that he was a player since we recruited him," June Jones says. He was a great catch. Funaki was a two-time state championship quarterback at Kahuku, and he picked Hawaii over BYU.
True. But most of the rest of us thought he'd end up as an "athlete" instead of at quarterback. At Kahuku, he ran the option sometimes, and looked good doing it. He had decent speed. It was easy to look at him and wonder if he was a little too "football player" for his own good.
But no. He's done the work. Jones talks about a talk with Funaki -- "like I told him, at the end of the season last year, I don't think he's applied himself. And he agreed."
And then, Jones says, the guy responded, focusing, working harder (stepping forward to volunteer for live fire).
Come get him. Try to hit him. It only helps him improve.
"You know, it's good for them. It's good for the defense. I really don't mind. If anything, it helps me, too," Funaki says.
After that spring show of derring-do, I asked quarterbacks coach Dan Morrison -- this guy's going to turn out to be a quarterback after all, yeah?
Oh, yeah. Morrison raves about Funaki, loves his parents. Says they should write a book about how to raise kids.
Asking for full contact? Morrison didn't even bat an eye. Says nobody did, really. Everybody already knew. This guy is a football player.
"That's just typical Inoks," Morrison says.
On Friday, Colt Brennan talked about wrapping up his six 220s, but running two extra just to run with Inoke.
Oh, yes, Brennan. And Tyler Graunke, too. Funaki is a clear No. 3, but Morrison says they need three. Jones says he's just two plays away, and should move the team should he get his chance.
Glanville says he'd be a nightmare to defend.
There's time. He'll be in the mix.
He's a quarterback. Established now. That much we know.
"I wouldn't mind trying him on defense," Glanville says. "I think he'd be one of us in a minute."
That's the kind of player this guy is.
"(Full-speed contact is) good for me because it helps me get my reads," Funaki says.
"Maybe I might get hurt, maybe I might not. But you can get hurt just walking around, sprain an ankle." Besides, he says, as long as Brennan isn't the guy getting hit, Funaki will do anything to help the defense develop.
Of course, that day won't be duplicated. Never again. That's the kind of rare moment that can only happen on the last day of spring. This is the real season now, and Funaki has to get ready to play quarterback now, and he's probably taken his last hit (at least in orange).
But that might not stop him from trying.
"I don't know how the coaches want to do it," he says, "but I'll tell the coaches, 'Eh, if they want to go live on me, you can let 'em get me!' "
Music. Sweet music.
On second thought, forget about calling him a quarterback. He's a football player, that's all.