CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Hawaii defensive end Ikaika Alama-Francis showed some ferocity Thursday when he mixed it up with an offensive lineman.
Warriors mingle with the Bulldogs
Rival Hawaii and Fresno State players get along fine
Like politics, all-star games make for strange bedfellows.
It's especially true at today's Cornerstone Bancard Hula Bowl at Aloha Stadium.
Cornerstone Bancard Hula Bowl
Who: Aina vs. Kai
When: Today, 3:35 p.m.
Where: Aloha Stadium
Is that really Fresno State's Pat Hill coaching a team with seven University of Hawaii players on the roster -- not to mention Boise State quarterback Jared Zabransky?
The Warriors, Bulldogs and Broncos are Western Athletic Conference rivals, but today they're teaming up, along with other players from the Western part of the country, to play for the Kai team against the Aina. The Aina squad has mostly players from east of the Rockies.
Hill and UH coach June Jones are pals, and the Hawaii players don't have a problem with Hill other than one week a year.
"He's great, I've always felt he's a great coach," UH running back Nate Ilaoa said. "He probably gets a lot of heat out here. The media always writes he's the guy with the Bulldog look, being from Fresno.
"We've got Fresno running backs, UH running backs and a BYU running back. And they're all cool guys."
Today's game is an opportunity for Ilaoa and Hawaii teammate Reagan Mauia to play together in the same backfield. They rarely did so in the Warriors' mostly one-back offense.
"He's at fullback, I'm at tailback," Ilaoa said. "He's out there plowing away and I'm just taking advantage of it. He's right there in front of me smashing on the guys," Ilaoa said.
Both are intriguing prospects, since at 250 pounds Ilaoa is a fullback-sized tailback and at around 280, Mauia is a center-sized fullback.
The tutelage of Hill and practicing with Fresno State tailback Dwayne Wright and fullback Roshon Vercher should help them get used to the two-back set favored by the pros.
"A lot of guys haven't had a chance to run this offense or called it different things, but they've done a really good job of putting themselves out there and running the plays," Hill said.
UH defensive end Ikaika Alama-Francis, projected as a second-round NFL Draft pick, turned in an impressive week of practice. Any doubts about his ferocity because of his pleasant off-field personality were erased Thursday. That's when he wrestled with a frustrated offensive lineman long after the whistle. The coaches and scouts loved it.
Alabama cornerback Ramzee Robinson is another player taking things seriously.
"We're all here to compete and make a name for ourselves," said Robinson, who is playing on the Aina team coached by West Virginia's Rich Rodriguez. "That's why we came here."
The Aina team also features three players from Florida and five from Ohio State, which the Gators beat Monday in the BCS national championship game.