SB FILE / OCTOBER 2006
Elijah Lesu of Farrington is among 14 who have signed with Hawaii so far.
Jones expects contributions from newcomers
This year's class could help bolster both lines, which have been depleted by senior departures
Now comes the fun part.
With most of the commitments now official, the Hawaii football coaching staff can start envisioning how the Warriors' new additions will mix with the returning talent to form next season's depth chart.
Hawaii coach June Jones spoke glowingly of the players who had submitted their letters of intent as of yesterday morning, with several of the initial list of 13 signees in position to compete for playing time this season. Another letter was cleared later in the day.
"You project where they might go and then they'll fight it out in the fall," Jones said.
The group is heavy in linemen with nine, with a smattering of skill-position athletes on offense. The class of newcomers will also include several "grayshirts" who signed last year and will join the team for spring practice.
Of the signees introduced yesterday, four were junior-college transfers who will be looked upon to bolster a defense that lost senior leaders up front and in the secondary.
Jones said defensive ends Christopher Leatigaga (6-5, 250) and Joshua Leonard (6-4, 275) will be in the mix to replace seniors Melila Purcell and Ikaika Alama-Francis. Jones said returning defensive linemen Amani Purcell, John Fonoti, Victor Clore and Nate Russell will have a chance to develop into contributors up front, "and when we add these other kids with them we're pretty good."
Outside linebacker Francis Maka transferred from San Mateo College and is taking classes at UH and will participate in spring practice.
Jones was particularly impressed with Leonard's potential coming out of Sierra (Calif.) College, where he was a first-team junior-college All-American.
"On film, he might be the most impressive defensive lineman that we've ever gotten from the mainland," Jones said. "This kid was wanted by a lot of schools. ... He's a big-time player that I would think will get a lot of playing time his first season once he gets clued in to what we're doing."
UH also went the junior-college route to bolster the defensive backfield, which lost senior captain Leonard Peters. The coaches signed safety Erik Robinson (5-11, 193) out of Navarro Community College to help address the vacancy at free safety.
"I can't wait until (defensive coordinator) Jerry Glanville sees this kid," Jones said, "He is a big-time hitter. ... He's the real deal. We had a need there obviously with Leonard leaving and we think he'll be an impact player for us this season."
The Warriors also added depth at cornerback -- where they return starters Myron Newberry and Gerard Lewis and Keenan Jones, who redshirted last season -- by signing Ryan Mouton (5-10, 185) from Blinn Community College.
"(Mouton) is as natural a corner as we've had," Jones said. "He's got some work to do, but we think he's got a chance to be maybe the best corner we've ever gotten here. He can fly to the football. When he sees the football he's got a gear that just goes."
Ray Hisatake (6-4, 310), Maka's teammate at San Mateo, is also in school. He was a nose tackle in junior college, but Jones said he'll move to offense at least for spring practice.
"Should we decide after spring that we want him to play defense for whatever reason he has a chance there, he's that good an athlete," Jones said. "I had a long talk with him about his future and I think it is on the offensive line."
Among the freshmen, Jones said offensive linemen Austin Hansen (6-4, 285) and Matagisila Lefiti (6-1, 290) and defensive lineman Vaughn Meatoga (6-2, 280) could push to get on the field right away.
Defensive lineman Korey Reynolds (6-3, 250) was added to the list later in the day when his paperwork was cleared. Reynolds is a senior at Alabama power Hoover High School, the team highlighted by MTV's "Two-A-Days" series.
"We haven't been able to attract those types of players before, so that's a real positive," Jones said. "He's a very good player who was recruited by everybody down there."
Jones also praised the potential of Kahuku offensive lineman John Manu-Olevao and Farrington safety/receiver Elijah Lesu. Both are working on meeting entrance requirements.
Jones said running back Kealoha Pilares, quarterback Kiran Kepo'o, cornerback Kenny Estes and receiver Eric Shaffer will get a look during spring practice as "grayshirts," who enrolled in school this semester.
Jones said record-setting quarterback Colt Brennan probably won't get much work in the spring, giving more reps to backups Tyler Graunke and Inoke Funaki as well as Kepo'o. That'll be the case at several positions where the Warriors have seasoned performers in place.
"We'll give all these new guys a chance in spring," Jones said. "I don't need to see what Colt does, I don't need to watch Ryan (Grice-Mullins) and Davone (Bess) very much. I don't need to watch Hercules (Satele) and John Estes or Michael Lafaele or Adam Leonard; I know what they can do. So the opportunity is going to be great for a lot of these kids."
While UH fans can look forward to seeing a few members of this spring class on the field in the fall, others will wait a while before joining the program.
Jones said Kealakehe running back Gabe Tuata and Punahou receiver Miah Ostrowski could be in line as the Warriors' next set of dynamic slotbacks after Bess and Grice-Mullins complete their careers. They will enroll next spring along with linemen Levi Legay and Drew Uperesa.
Ostrowski's signing gives UH the last two Star-Bulletin high school offensive players of the year.
"(Tuata's) just got great vision and has unbelievable quickness," Jones said. "I don't think anybody can tackle him one-on-one.
"Miah is smart and has extreme 25-yard quickness catching the ball and getting away from people, which is what you need in a slot," Jones said. "Having done a lot of what we do at Punahou he's going to be ahead of most freshmen."
While UH's success in an 11-3 2006 season and the buzz generated by Brennan's return factored into the recruiting process, Jones credited the program's intangible qualities for luring players to Manoa.
"When you talk to these kids, they feel something different when they come on their recruiting trip," Jones said. "We may not have a lot of the things other schools have, but we do have a great unity and a great family atmosphere and the kids like it here. They like playing with each other and they like playing for the coaches we have."
As of yesterday
||Valencia (Calif.) High
||Foothill (Calif.) College
||Mater Dei (Calif.) High
||Sierra (Calif.) College
||Blinn (Texas) CC
||Hoover (Ala.) High
||Navarro (Texas) CC
Players already enrolled at UH
* will join the team in spring 2008