CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
University of Hawaii Warriors football players, including quarterback Colt Brennan, above, reported yesterday for the first day of practice. CLICK FOR LARGE
Hawaii fills gaps on O-line
The University of Hawaii football team opens spring practice
The last time Hawaii had to replace three starting offensive linemen between seasons, the Warriors ended up doing pretty well. They went 9-5, winning seven of their last nine games.
The unit is faced with that same rebuilding project this spring, as three freshmen from that 2003 team completed their Warrior careers last December. Center Samson Satele and tackles Tala Esera and Dane Uperesa combined for more than 100 career starts, some of them during that transition season of 2003.
Sophomore left tackle Aaron Kia and center Lafu Tuioti-Mariner and right tackle Keoni Steinhoff, both juniors, got the first look as potential replacements as spring practice started yesterday.
"I think they handled (the first practice as first stringers) like true champions," offensive line coach Dennis McKnight said. "Everybody knows what great players those three seniors were. But everybody wants to leave their own mark and place their name."
Junior Keith Ah-Soon and sophomore Laupepa Letuli are also strong candidates to join returning starters Hercules Satele and John Estes.
"They all have great pride as competitors," McKnight said. "I love their attitude. I don't think the hardest thing is replacing the three, the hardest thing is picking the right three, because there's so many who can do the job."
For Steinhoff, moving into the first five is "a big step up from last year."
"We just have to stay focused and pick up where the three seniors left off and just keep it going, give Colt (quarterback Brennan) his protection and give him a good season," he said. "Just got to keep working hard every day."
Kia said there are expectations to succeed as much as previous UH offensive linemen.
"They really set the bar pretty high. It's up to us to show the coaches that we can do it too," he said. "Everybody wants to start, but you've got to work hard and show you deserve it, day by day."
McKnight said the examples from previous seasons will help.
"All these guys saw how they practiced for two and three years, coming out early, getting ready to stretch," he said. "They know you don't just show up."
College of San Mateo (Calif.) transfer Ray Hisatake is an intriguing newcomer to the offensive line. The 6-foot-4, 320-pound junior has played just three years of competitive football, all as a defensive tackle.
He went to his locker yesterday morning and found jersey No. 64 -- Samson Satele's old number.
"I was kind of shocked," Hisatake said. "I don't think I should wear this yet. Maybe I need to work my way up to this. To wear this jersey means a lot, because Sam was a great player."
UH head coach June Jones saw Hisatake work out when he arrived on campus in January and suggested he try offensive tackle.
"June has an eye for guys like that, he's been doing this 30-plus years," McKnight said. "He saw that Ray has great arm length and is very athletic. He could be a basketball power forward. If he can grasp it, he could be in the mix very quickly. Not having played before he doesn't have any bad habits."
Hisatake said he's excited about the opportunity.
"Since they pass a lot and I have NFL size, I thought it'd be a good move for me," he said. "Coach told me practice with the O-line in the spring and if I don't like it I can move back in the fall."