RICHARD WALKER / RWALKER@STARBULLETIN.COM
Jason Rivers has made 40 catches for Hawaii this season for a total of 563 yards. He has scored eight touchdowns.
Rivers gives Warriors leadership this year
The receiver didn't play in 2005 but is making up for it with his unselfish attitude this season
Playing receiver at Hawaii is all about adjustments.
They're usually in the middle of plays. For Jason Rivers, the most important ones were made mid-career.
LaTech at Hawaii
Where: Aloha Stadium
When: Tomorrow, 6:05 p.m.
TV: Pay per view (Ch. 255)
Radio: KKEA (1420-AM)
He found himself in an awkward position last offseason, a veteran and a rookie at the same time. After two solid years in the same lineup with Chad Owens, the former state sprint champ was poised to become UH's primary target in 2005.
A big highlight was catching the 7-yard touchdown pass in 2004 that gave Tim Chang the NCAA career passing-yardage record. That came against Louisiana Tech (3-6, 1-3 WAC), the team the Warriors (7-2, 5-1) play tomorrow at Aloha Stadium in search of their sixth consecutive win.
Rivers' breakthrough season of 2005 never happened because academic and injury issues kept Rivers off the field. Freshman slotbacks Ryan Grice-Mullins and Davone Bess emerged as the Warriors' top receivers for new quarterback Colt Brennan during UH's transition year.
Rivers returned to the team last spring. In some ways he was just another talented young pass catcher who had to prove himself. In others, he was a wizened veteran left over from the Chang years.
Rivers entered the 2006 season 14th in UH career receiving yards, but had yet to catch a pass from Brennan. In his first two games, Rivers had just five catches for 61 yards and no scores. In the last four, he has 20 receptions for 288 yards and five TDs.
"They already had their chemistry and I was coming in new. I think it's better now. I've got a few games under my belt. It's all quickly coming together," Rivers said.
At 6-feet-2 and 192 pounds, Rivers is the Warriors' most physically impressive receiver. His position coach, Ron Lee, said he is living up to his potential.
"Jason, right now, is playing the best football of his career," Lee said. "He's practicing at a high level. He's having fun, and I think his best football is still ahead of him."
For the season, Rivers has 40 catches for 563 yards and eight touchdowns. He doesn't lead the Warriors in any category, but is right in the middle of a tightly spaced group of six who have received for between 476 yards (Grice-Mullins) and 698 (Bess).
Grice-Mullins said the threat of Rivers catching a deep ball helps the other receivers. So does his willingness to share -- the football, as well as his knowledge.
"He definitely helps stretch the field and he brings a physical game. He and (slotback) Ross (Dickerson) will run right through you," Grice-Mullins said. "The year with him sitting out I think really helped him. He's a totally different guy now. He's more of a team guy. He understands it's not about how many balls you catch or yards you get. He's taken a leadership role."
Rivers was a big part of UH's late-season rallies in 2003 and 2004 that led to winning records and Hawaii Bowl appearances. He said this season is more exciting because of the way the Warriors have played on the road (they finished 3-2 away from home, and clinched a winning record and Hawaii Bowl bid with a 63-10 win at Utah State last Saturday).
"This is better than before because it says a lot about our team, going on the road and winning consistently, putting up 60 points," Rivers said. "That says a lot about us playing to our potential."
Lewis back at left corner: Gerard Lewis won the starting job at left cornerback with an outstanding week of practice. Ryan Keomaka, who was listed No. 1 on the depth chart on Monday, will also get to play, coaches said.
Lewis started in victories against New Mexico State and Idaho, before losing the job before last week's win at Utah State. Defensive backs coach Rich Miano said the 5-foot-9, 168-pound junior is developing consistency.
"He's getting more conscientious about his assignments. It's a good situation because all of them are aware the talent is close. It's who's more consistent, and that includes practice," Miano said. "They can't make mental mistakes. If a lineman makes a mental mistake, a linebacker can make the tackle. If a linebacker makes a mental mistake, a safety makes the tackle. We can't make mistakes."
Myron Newberry has established himself as the starter at right cornerback with three solid games in a row.
Safety shuffle?: Miano and defensive coordinator Jerry Glanville said they weren't sure if free safety Leonard Peters' shaky knee would be strong enough to allow him to play tomorrow.
"He worries me. You can't tell him that he should sit out this game, or rest a couple weeks because he's a warrior," Miano said. "It doesn't matter what the doctors say, it doesn't matter what we say. He won't come off the field."
If Peters doesn't play, Mike Malala will.
"Mike is playing really well. He has earned his stripes on special teams," Miano said. "He showed he can hit. He's very, very fast. He's smart. That's the next best safety we have (after Peters and strong safety Jake Patek)."
D-line update: Ends Rocky Savaiigaea (ankle) and Laupepa Letuli (knee) are doubtful and out, respectively, tomorrow.
Converted offensive lineman Larry Sauafea has impressed defensive line coach Jeff Reinebold.
"He'll definitely get some time," Reinebold said. "And Fale (Laeli) is running much better."
Laeli is back after missing the last five games with a knee sprain.
Short yardage: A total of 25,700 tickets for tomorrow's game had been distributed at the end of business yesterday. ... Quarterback Colt Brennan was interviewed live on ESPN's Hot List show. Also, an e-mail letter from athletic director Herman Frazier went out to national college media, stating 15 reasons to vote for Brennan for the Heisman Trophy.