UNIVERSITY OF HAWAII FOOTBALL
Kepo'o getting first taste as Hawaii QB
Kiran Kepo'o knows he's got quite a wait ahead of him ... not that he minds much.
As one of the youngsters among Hawaii's quarterback corps, the Iolani graduate is spending spring practice getting up to speed with the Warriors' system and adjusted to being back on the field after taking a season away from the game.
"I'm just trying to get back into it right now," Kepo'o said after UH's workout yesterday morning, the second of 15 practices this month. "Hopefully, within this week I'll just familiarize myself with practice and everything. I'm not really too worried right now, I'm just gradually trying to get it back. I now have some time."
The last time Kepo'o played in a game, he led Iolani to the 2005 Division II state championship. He signed with UH as a "grayshirt," meaning he wouldn't join the team until this semester.
Along with waiting to officially join the UH program, the 6-foot-1 lefty figures to have time to develop as he bides his time behind UH's returnees, led by Heisman Trophy candidate Colt Brennan, junior Tyler Graunke and sophomore Inoke Funaki. Another freshman, Castle graduate Bryce Kalauokaaea, is slated to join the mix this spring.
"I just have to gradually work my way up and learn step by step," Kepo'o said. "I just have to be patient with everything."
With Brennan returning for his third season as a starter following a record-breaking junior year, UH head coach June Jones said the backups will get more work during the spring.
Graunke, who started two games as a freshman, completed 74 percent (32-for-43) of his passes last season and threw for four touchdowns in relief of Brennan. Entering his fourth year in the program, Graunke said he'll use the spring to refine his timing with the receivers and continue to earn Jones' trust.
"(The offense) has been instilled in my brain for the last three years, it's a matter of putting it on the field and showing Coach I'm not going to make mistakes that young guys make," Graunke said. "I don't feel like I'm a young guy any more. I need to step up and try to take a veteran role. Even though I don't start, I feel like I can make a difference. I'll be ready for anything."
Still, Graunke hasn't been in Manoa so long that he can't relate to Kepo'o's growing pains as the freshman takes his first steps at the college level.
"It's crazy how fast the game was and how much was thrown at me," Graunke recalled. "And it's crazy how over time it seems so much better. The game speed slows down, everything is easier to read.
"I always tell him to keep positive and stay focused and not make the same mistake twice. Coach understands if a new guy makes a mistake, but if he makes it twice then that's just saying he's not paying attention to trying to get better. I've made all the mistakes Kiran's made and plenty more -- that's just how it goes being the young guys."
Jones said depth at a particular position is among the factors in deciding to have a player grayshirt after signing with the school rather than join the team immediately. In February, UH signed four more players who are slated to grayshirt next season.
The later start gives Kepo'o a spring and summer to get his feet under him before reporting for his first fall camp.
"This is his first spring, and it's always hard when you first jump into it," Jones said. "But by the fall he'll feel a lot more comfortable with what we're doing, so we'll be able to evaluate him. I don't really evaluate quarterbacks when they first come out."