FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Hawaii football players Victor Clore and Keith Ah-Soon performed a haka with teammates at Aloha Stadium after yesterday's final spring practice.
Warriors show aloha
Thousands turn out for the Warriors' final spring practice
Judging by the atmosphere on Aloha Stadium's south concourse prior to the Hawaii football team's final practice of the spring, the Ohana Festival lived up to the title even before the Warriors took the field.
A crowd of 3,204 filed into the stadium for the event capping the Warriors' spring to snag autographs from some of the team's top players and watch the team go through its 15th and final practice before heading into their summer preparations.
Though the festivities began with a light atmosphere, with players taking part in the autograph session before practice, they got back to business for their last workout of the month.
While the spring gave the returnees a chance to sharpen their skills heading into a highly anticipated 2007 season, it also marked a critical period for those just hoping to earn a place on the roster for fall camp.
UH coach June Jones said the staff would have to make decisions on about 30 players vying for invitations to camp. The coaches will also take the upcoming days to solidify the depth chart heading into the summer with tight competitions at several spots.
"We got done what we set out to do this spring, looked at a lot of guys," Jones said. "We wanted to make sure we gave everybody an opportunity."
With Greg McMackin returning to take over defensive coordinator duties at the start of the spring, implementing a new scheme was also one of the top priorities.
"We've got in more than we did the first time I was here," said McMackin, who coached the UH defense in 1999. "These guys are really smart players and have done a great job of picking up things. I'm really excited about this bunch. I threw a lot at them."
"We got everything done that was on the agenda, and even more than what Coach wanted to put in because we handled it so well," said safety Jacob Patek, who had two interceptions during 7-on-7 drills last night. "I think we're going to start off on the right foot and build from there."
Predictably, quarterback and Heisman Trophy candidate Colt Brennan was the player most in demand during the autograph session and shook off the writer's cramp to fling a few tosses during the workout, completing all of his passes in an 11-play team period.
"It was crazy, but obviously if that's happening you're doing something right," Brennan said of the line of fans who waited to pose for a picture with him or have him sign various pieces of memorabilia. "I was glad to see it."
The night ended with a 30-play scrimmage period with backups taking most of the snaps.
Running back Mario Cox and linebacker C.J. Allen-Jones were involved in the hit of the night, a noisy collision along the sideline after Cox caught a swing pass from Inoke Funaki.
Receiver Greg Salas also turned in a highlight with a leaping catch of a throw deep down the left sideline from freshman Bryce Kalauokaaea.
"The kids get excited to come down to the stadium, and it's good for the fans to see a lot of the players," Jones said.
FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Safety Jacob Patek tackled receiver Aaron Bain during last night's practice at Aloha Stadium.
Much of the excitement came before the players took the field as fans lined up to meet some of the high-profile Warriors.
When the stadium gates opened at 5 p.m., Steve Lin of Makiki was among those who rushed toward Brennan's table situated outside section BB. By 5:30 the line snaked past the stadium gates and down a walkway curling around the mauka grandstand.
An hour-and-a-half later Lin emerged with a signed helmet he said won't appear on eBay.
"It was well worth the wait," Lin said. "Part of something special. He's an NFL prospect and he's brought so much attention to Hawaii. Off the field he's awesome, he seemed like a really nice guy."
UH officials started the autographs about 15 minutes earlier than scheduled and extended it by about 20 minutes.
Scott Tanijo of Kaneohe, who also got in when the gates opened, benefited from the extra time, getting a jersey signed about 5 minutes before Brennan and the rest of the Warriors involved in the session joined their teammates on the field.
"I heard them talking and they said they would extend to 6:45, so I felt better," he said.
Still, there was a lengthy line when the autographs were cut off. UH associate athletic director John McNamara said the department is planning more public events prior to the season.
"I think this type of event clearly demonstrated the interest in this year's football team, so as successful as this event was we're going to have other opportunities for the fans to come out and meet the players," McNamara said. "It was really important for us that we do something that was a way to reach out to the community and allow them to really embrace this year's football team."