First strings clash at UH practice
The defense is a little ahead; normal for this early in camp
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The ones met up with the ones yesterday at Hawaii football practice on the first day the Warriors wore shoulder pads along with their helmets.
Eventually, most of the first three strings of white and green saw action in a half-hour, no-tackling scrimmage.
The result was predictable -- defense ahead of the offense.
A few dropped passes, a few missed assignments. Colt Brennan nearly got sacked by a freshman.
But coach June Jones was pleased with the effort on both sides.
"That is good, everybody's hustling," Jones said.
It's not that the Warriors looked terrible on offense, it's just that the defense is always ahead this early in camp. If it's not that way, it usually means something is seriously wrong.
Maybe it's because defensive players are more pumped about putting on pads than offensive players are.
"Well you know it's a long season," Jones said. "But the guys are excited to have 'em on. We've got a long way to go but there were some good things out there. Hopefully we'll just keep getting better every day."
By the end, players on both sides of the ball were fatigued.
"It was a little tiring because I'd been out," junior safety Eric Robinson said. "But everything's getting better."
The same can be said for senior defensive end Karl Noa, from whom a big season is expected after he spent the offseason getting stronger and faster.
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Noa at home as defensive end
Karl Noa knows he's got some history to live up to.
With several defensive ends leaving lasting imprints on the Hawaii football program over the years -- including last year's starting duo of Melila Purcell and Ikaika Alama-Francis -- Noa enters his senior season looking to add to the rich tradition of Warrior linemen.
"It's just a great opportunity now," Noa said after yesterday afternoon's practice. "The guys who left a legacy here and we want to try to raise the bar for next year. Those guys, like Mel and Ikaika, even the guys way back, they really set the bar high every single year."
Noa has been a "tweener" in his first three years at UH, bouncing back and forth between defensive end and outside linebacker several times already. But he's found a home this year as the projected starter on the right side of the Warriors' defensive front.
The Kamehameha graduate saw limited playing time early in his career as a lineman before starting two games at stub linebacker last season and recording a career-high 10 tackles in UH's loss at Boise State. He was moved back to the line when defensive coordinator Greg McMackin put in a 4-3 alignment and installed Noa and Amani Purcell as the incumbent ends during the spring.
"His challenge has not been one of ability, it's been one of just finding a home," defensive line coach Jeff Reinebold said.
"It was frustrating I'm sure for him because he really didn't have a place. Now that we're in a different structure and he's in a position where he's doing a lot of the same things he did in the other defense, but I think we're taking better advantage of his innate abilities as a pass rusher."
Having a regular spot to concentrate on also has Noa playing with greater confidence.
"I've embraced it, it's just a great opportunity and I just want to seize it," he said. "Looking back I'm grateful I got to (play linebacker) and I'm glad I got that experience. Now I'm back to my natural position, I'm happy here, especially in this defense."
Said Reinebold: "I think last spring when Greg came in and he was put in a position to be the first-team guy for 15 straight days, it wasn't very long before the light came on that 'Hey, this is something I can really excel at.' "
At 6-foot-4, Noa's range has long been among his assets and he's added a bit more bulk in anticipation of playing on the line in his final season, checking in for fall camp at a solid 250 pounds after entering the program at 209 and playing at 238 last year. According to the figures in this season's media guide, he's also the fastest of the UH defensive linemen at 4.55 seconds in the 40-yard dash.
"It really doesn't matter how big you are, if you've got the technique down, and the fundamental things, you should be OK," Noa said. "But it helps me a lot, strength-wise. Now it's transferring that from the weight room out here."
But the physical tools are only part of what endears the three-time academic All-Western Athletic Conference honoree to his coaches.
"If you say he's a gifted athlete, that's true," Reinebold said. "He can run, he can jump, he can do all the things you want guys to be able to do. He's a great competitor, on top of it, he's a great character person. That's the bonus, the extra special thing that you had with Mel and Ikaika and luckily we've got it with him and we've got it with so many guys."
Quiet by nature, Noa is more apt to assert leadership by example rather than words. And part of his motivation is to serve as a role model for the younger players in the program.
"It's just the simple things like showing up for (offseason) workouts," Noa said. "When I was a freshman or a sophomore, those older guys really did a good job of coming out. And this year we had the biggest turnout as a defensive unit. So it's not just the older guys now, it's bringing the new guys up to speed so everybody can play."