Keomaka makes his case to go to Alabama
The former cornerback is leaving his mark on special teams
Ryan Keomaka didn't make the Hawaii football team's 105-player fall-camp roster, but he might be on the field for the first game of UH's football season at Alabama a week from today.
Keomaka was a cornerback last year, but his value to the Warriors this fall will likely be his ability as a special teams player.
Since rejoining the team Monday, Keomaka has been a regular on the kickoff squad.
"He's got great speed and he's a gutsy little guy," special teams coordinator Mouse Davis said of the 5-foot-10, 173-pound junior from Roosevelt. "When we got him on special teams two years ago he was one of our best cover kids on kickoffs. (Defensive backs coach and special teams assistant) Rich (Miano) is also using him some on covering punts this year. He should be excellent on kickoff cover again. And he's a good little athlete, so we're excited about getting him back."
With UH's self-imposed 60-player travel limit for the Alabama game, most special teams players should be ready to perform on offense or defense, and vice versa for second stringers on offense and defense. Keomaka has had plenty of reps this week at cornerback.
He played the position extensively last year, including a nine-tackle game against San Diego State in which he also intercepted a pass and recovered a fumble on the way to being the WAC defensive player of the week. But Keomaka was not invited to spring practice or fall camp because of off-field issues.
"He's got to catch up mentally on technique," defensive coordinator Jerry Glanville said. "He's not where the other people are. We're trying to play catch-up."
Keomaka said he attended position meetings to try to keep up.
"Basically it's almost the same thing as last year. My alignment has changed a little bit, but the assignments are the same," he said.
JUCO transfer Keenan Jones still wasn't cleared to practice yesterday. If the highly regarded cornerback isn't available by five days before the game, he won't have enough time to be able to wear full pads and play next week. That could create an opening for Keomaka or another player.
"I'm in classes and everything. I'm just waiting for the word to practice," Jones said Thursday.
Coach June Jones submitted 65 names to the airline earlier. He said he will finalize the travel roster tomorrow.
"We're voting on that right now," he said.
Also, several players, including second-string offensive linemen Keith Ah Soon and Marques Kaonohi and second-string nose tackle Lawrence Wilson, are being auditioned as wedge blockers on kickoff return. That could have an impact on who makes the trip and who doesn't.
Veikune finding niche: Sophomore defensive end David Veikune is also counting on versatility for his ticket to Tuscaloosa. He is on every special team in addition to backing up starters Ikaika Alama-Francis and Mel Purcell.
"I've just been working hard, doing the best I can," said Veikune, a Campbell graduate who transferred to Hawaii from Fresno City College after beginning his college career at Colorado.
The 6-foot-3 Veikune will be used mostly on passing downs until he can bulk up from his 258 pounds.
"I'm trying to get used to a defense I've never played in before," Veikune said. "I'm really undersized for this defense. Basically we're D-tackles, not really D-ends."
Defensive line coach Jeff Reinebold said Veikune has adjusted well.
"He's improved every day," Reinebold said. "He fits the profile of what we look for in a defensive lineman. He's strong, tough, smart and he can run. He'll be a player for us."
Recovering: The players with minor injuries continued to heal up yesterday.
Nose tackle Mike Lafaele practiced a second consecutive day after missing workouts with a heel injury.
Glanville, of course, was happy to see one of the major keys to his defense back in the trenches.
"People don't realize. He's so smart, so intelligent. He knows what's going to happen before it happens," Glanville said. "His (heel) hinders him, but his mind's the best."
Safety Brad Kalilimoku was still out with a hamstring.
"We got some guys back, but we're still banged up," Jones said. "Hopefully by next Saturday night we'll be all there."
Reunion, sort of: A lot of Warriors will be in Atlanta on Thursday, and not just current ones.
While the current UH team practices at Georgia Tech that evening, the Atlanta Falcons host the Jacksonville Jaguars in an NFL preseason game less than 3 miles away at the Georgia Dome.
Five former UH players are in the game. They are Jaguars offensive linemen Wayne Hunter and Vince Manuwai and receiver Chad Owens, and Falcons offensive lineman Kynan Forney and wide receiver Ashley Lelie. Also, Kahuku graduate Chris Naeole is an offensive lineman for the Jaguars.
Coach Jones said yesterday he had no plans to see the game or meet up with the alumni.
"We'll be practicing at the same time," he said.
If Keomaka makes the trip he'll try to set up at least a brief meeting with Owens, who is his brother-in-law.
Short yardage: The season-ticket sales count was up to 17,326 yesterday. Around 16,300 renewed their packages from last year. The first home game is Sept. 16 against UNLV at Aloha Stadium. ... Today's practice is 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. and the team is off tomorrow. ... Linebacker Mana Lolotai from Kamehameha is not enrolling at Oregon State this fall as originally planned and has expressed interest in joining the Warriors. ... Running backs Nate Ilaoa and Khevin Peoples ran well in team session yesterday featuring most of the first stringers on offense and defense.