Warriors on both sidelines
Hawaii will be well represented on the UNLV side of the field in today's home opener for UH
Malo Taumua was a mainstay of the Aiea High School championship football team of 2004 -- a hefty force in the middle of the defensive line, just like the player next to him whom he considers a brother, Rocky Savaiigaea.
Savaiigaea and another Aiea teammate, linebacker R.J. Keisel-Kauhane, accepted scholarships at Hawaii and are still trying to battle their way off the scout team. Taumua went to UNLV instead. Tonight, he suits up against the Warriors as the Rebels' No. 2 nose guard as UH hosts UNLV at Aloha Stadium.
Even if UH had offered him a scholarship, staying home wouldn't have been a guarantee for Taumua.
"I wanted to leave Hawaii to get a different experience," he said.
"I feel like I made the right choice. The players here are like my brothers, and I have lots of family friends (in Las Vegas). I can stay at their houses, they have barbecues."
The huge community of former Hawaii residents and other Polynesians in Las Vegas makes the islands a fertile recruiting ground for Rebels coach Mike Sanford. Taumua is among six players from Hawaii high schools on the UNLV roster, and the one likely to have the most impact in tonight's game. He will probably play 15 to 20 snaps in relief of starter Howie Fuimaono.
"My job is to try to control gaps and get penetration," the 6-foot, 295-pound Taumua said. "Even though Hawaii's going to try to pass 70 times, I have to suck it up and get past Samson (UH center Satele). It's not any different than any other game. Coach tells us it's the same every game."
But this is definitely not like any other game for the Rebels of island ancestry.
"We have some Polynesian players on our team and they would play this game in a parking lot. They just love the idea of playing the University of Hawaii," Sanford said.
It could be played on the asphalt considering the expected number of empty stalls. Fewer than 22,000 tickets had been distributed earlier this week, but a late push by the UH athletic department had that number up to 28,106. The real question is how many people will actually show up.
Those who do come will see two wide-open offenses.
Hawaii's run-and-shoot sputtered for the first half at Alabama two weeks ago, but the Warriors gained confidence after the break and quarterback Colt Brennan found pukas aplenty in the Tide secondary before running out of time in a 25-17 loss.
With last week's bye, UH has had 13 days and a wake-up to stew over what might have been if it hadn't played the first half like it was taking on all 12 of Alabama's national championship squads.
"To be a good football team, you gotta do it every play, every game. You can't just have your moments," Hawaii coach June Jones said. "Sure, we played good in the second half. If we come out and turn the ball over Saturday night, it's gonna be tough to overcome again. These guys can score some points, too. They scored (54 against) Idaho State."
While UH's defense played well in the second half against Alabama's ground game, the Warriors did not force a turnover while giving the ball up three times.
Also, the Hawaii defense will be missing one of its most valuable members, inside linebacker Solomon Elimimian. He's out with a knee injury that won't let him move laterally.
"That's a coach on the field," defensive coordinator Jerry Glanville said. "That's a guy that makes a lot of calls. That's a guy that's so intelligent, he knows the rules better than the officials. Forty-one knows the rules so well, he tells me, in Alabama stadium, in front of 90,000 people, which official doesn't know the rule so I can go talk to him."
Brad Kalilimoku, who started next to Elimimian last year, replaces Elimimian. Freshman Blaze Soares will also get some playing time.
The Warriors will be tested by a four-receiver offense that also has elements of the option. Quarterback Rocky Hinds is a big-time talent, and will likely play despite a gimpy knee. If the USC transfer can't go, last year's starter Shane Steichen steps in.
Glanville said it won't matter which one plays.
"Nah, it's the same stuff. And I watched the film with the backup guy who was the starter last year, I watched him go 60 yards against Wyoming on a keep. They're both like 6-5. We don't have anyone 6-5," Glanville said. "They're just like Utah was. The bottom line is I'd rather go back and play Alabama than see this, but this is on our schedule."
UNLV is a team in transition, with several talented transfers beginning to make their marks.
"They have good athletes, but Alabama has great athletes. We've seen great athletes," Brennan said. "Their athletes shouldn't worry us in any way. We respect their defense, but it shouldn't be anything that gets us off sync or worried. We should just go out there and do what we do."