CRAIG KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Hawaii offensive linemen Dane Uperesa, left, and Tala Esera, right, both grew up in Hauula.
O-line starts and ends in Hauula
North Shore products Dane Uperesa and Tala Esera hold down both ends of UH's line
Even without their football gear, Tala Esera and Dane Uperesa are pretty easy to spot.
At 6-foot-4 and 308 pounds, Esera is usually the biggest guy in the room -- unless the 6-4, 310-pound Uperesa walks in.
So it's curious how the Hawaii offensive linemen managed to avoid each other while growing up in the same small town along Oahu's North Shore.
"That was weird," Esera said. "I live right behind the 7-11 in Hauula and I used to go there all the time when I was I little and he said he used to go there all the time when he was little, but we never really crossed paths.
"I'm good at recognizing faces. I had not seen Dane's face until the first time I saw him over here at the weight room."
Well, they weren't quite that old before their first encounter ... but close.
"Oh yeah, that was the first time I actually saw him," said Esera, the Kahuku graduate quickly correcting himself, "playing against Punahou in basketball. He was such a highly touted player we had to scout him little bit."
Now that they're teammates, Esera and Uperesa still don't see much of each other once the Warriors break the huddle since they occupy opposite ends of the line. But they remain connected through their roots to the North Shore.
"We take a lot of pride in that," Uperesa said. "He still lives out there. I didn't want to make the drive any more, so I'm here in town, but that's where my heart is, that's where my home is.
"I love living in Hauula. I want to be there when I'm older. I want to raise my kids there."
Esera and Uperesa make up two-thirds of the offensive line's senior core. Esera has started 34 games at UH, including the last 29 straight at left tackle. Uperesa played in all 12 games at right tackle in 2005, starting seven, despite suffering an ankle injury early in the season. Samson Satele has been in the starting five in all 39 of his college games and moves from guard to center this season.
And with much expected from the Hawaii offense this season, the senior tackles shoulder much of the responsibility for giving quarterback Colt Brennan time to connect with a talented receiver corps.
"It's really important that we get those outside end rushers, because the success of Colt depends on how we block, and the success of Colt is the success of the offense," Esera said. "So, to me, it all starts right here, me and Dane have to hold it down. Because if we don't hold it down it's just going to be like a snowball running downhill."
"We both have a big responsibility," Uperesa said, "because Colt's such a great quarterback and he's going to do some things this season and it's up to us to give him that opportunity."
The Warriors' experience on the ends has also helped guards Hercules Satele and John Estes ease into their roles with the starting group.
Estes, a redshirt freshman, is slated to make his first college start on Saturday at Alabama, and has a tutor next to him in Uperesa, who started the opening game of his freshman season against Appalachian State in 2003.
"He pretty much reminds me of everything I have to do, especially my pre-snap calls," Estes said. "Some calls I'm a little hesitant in making, and he makes them for me sometimes trying to help me."
With Hawaii's run-and-shoot offense putting the ball in the air an average of 48 times per game last season, the Warriors can expect defenses to try to disrupt their rhythm by putting pressure on Brennan. Which makes experience on the line a valuable feature.
"I think we've seen a lot in camp with our own defense with all the blitzes they throw at us," Uperesa said. "Our system is unique for the offensive line because we anticipate a lot of blitzes, we anticipate a lot of looks and defensive fronts. As long as we remember what we've been taught and we put that into a game situation and stick to our rules we should be fine."
As products of the North Shore, news of the traffic accidents in Hauula that claimed the lives of four teenagers earlier this month hit both linemen hard. Although they didn't know the victims personally, they could sense how the tragedies affected the mood in the community.
"It was really sad. Everybody was really down these past couple days," Esera said. "It's a tight community, so when anything like that happens you can feel it in the whole North Shore. Everybody's feeling down."
Esera was closely involved in some of the North Shore's proudest moments in recent years, as Kahuku football has long been a rallying point for the community. He was a defensive standout on the Red Raiders' first two state championship teams.
Uperesa, meanwhile, was busy as a successful three-sport athlete at Punahou, and the duo's prep backgrounds clashed last December when Kahuku edged the Buffanblu for the state championship.
Punahou got a bit of revenge this season with a dramatic win in an interleague game. Although Uperesa has been sporting a Punahou sticker on his practice helmet lately, with a postseason rematch still possible, he's not exactly shouting the alma mater just yet.
"He was kind of nice to me after the state championship game, but I think it was because he knew that Kahuku escaped," Uperesa said with a grin. "So I think it was kind of the same deal last week. I know Kahuku's going to have a chance to be there, and I hope Punahou will too. So I'm going to keep my mouth shut until they do something."