UH’s Estes center of attention
STORY SUMMARY »
Hawaii center John Estes grew up in Stockton, Calif., but has plenty of football bloodlines leading to the islands. Still, his brother tried to get him to join the Wolf Pack of Nevada.
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Vinny Pallone -- one of the Northern Colorado tackles Estes goes up against Saturday -- also has a Hawaii tie.
Estes and Pallone are featured today as the opening of the season for both teams looms.
Meanwhile, Warriors running back David Farmer, listed at No. 1 on the depth chart, now has a scholarship and kicker Dan Kelly is on the watch list for the Groza Award.
"It's a happy day," Farmer said.
Not so much for starting linebacker Blaze Soares. His hamstring pull is probably going to keep him out of the opener, although Soares said he's holding out hope.
The Warriors voted on captains yesterday. See UH Sports Extra for the results today.
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CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
John Estes comes from a long line of football players on his mother's side of the family.
Whether he wanted to or not, Hawaii's John Estes didn't have much of a choice when it came to playing football.
Sure, he could have said no and done other things, but that would have made him an outcast.
When it comes to his mother's side of the family, the men of the group do one thing, and one thing only.
"Every male pretty much on my mom's side played football," Estes said. "I didn't really think about much else."
His uncle, Rockne Freitas, spent 10 years in the NFL as an offensive linemen for the Indianapolis Colts and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. His cousins, Makoa and Makai Freitas, also played in the NFL, and cousin Kahai LaCount completed his eligibility last season for Hawaii.
But it was his brother, Patrick, of the rival Nevada Wolf Pack, who Estes credits with setting him on the path toward Hawaii.
"All through high school it was him," Estes said. "I'd go to his games when I could and he taught me a lot. That's where I got the passion from."
As a senior at St. Mary's High School in Stockton, Calif., when Estes wasn't snapping the ball to current Arizona quarterback Willie Tuitama, he was being recruited hard by the Wolf Pack. His brother would drop hints when he saw him about playing in Reno, Nev., but he was easily the minority.
His extended family on his mother's side all wanted him to go to Hawaii. When LaCount started earning some playing time, Estes took note and watched Hawaii games late at night.
He immediately noticed the new mean-looking black jerseys. He watched a team that liked to fly to the football and hit people with reckless abandon. It was such a wild atmosphere and he loved it.
"I'd see all the crazy black jerseys flying around and guys with long hair coming out of their helmets, it was nuts," Estes said. "I knew I wanted to play there."
Much to the chagrin of his brother, Estes joined his extended family in Hawaii in 2005. Maybe it was a case of young brother jealousy, but Estes didn't want to be in the shadow of Patrick. He wanted to blaze his own trail.
During his redshirt year, while the team went on road trips, Estes spent time at the LaCount home, where he watched all of Hawaii's games. And even though his cousin graduated, LaCount's mother still attends home games to cheer on her nephew. They provided a comfort level for Estes that helped him become a key component of an offensive line still in transition.
"Right now, we're just focused on knowing where we are going to be at all times," Estes said.
A sprained elbow early in fall camp limited Estes to one week of practice with the other starting linemen. It was a simple blocking drill when Estes lost his balance. As he fell, he put his left arm out to brace his fall, and in the process, hyper-extended his elbow.
He already was dealing with a move back to the center position, which he played in high school. Now, he has had to overcome lingering pains in his elbow that will only get well with rest. Even at less than full speed, his return brought stability to an offensive line that struggled with its quarterback exchanges throughout camp.
As a center in high school, his team played primarily in a shotgun similar to Hawaii's. The biggest difference is the person he's snapping to.
"Willie would always make fun of me and my big (butt)," Estes said. "I don't get much of that from Colt."
Only a sophomore, Estes is a veteran presence up front. He returned to practice as soon as he could, to show leadership for an inexperienced group. It rejuvenated the offensive line to the point that O-line coach Dennis McKnight is much happier with the group's progress.
"We needed to get them playing together and you're seeing the improvements in practice," McKnight said. "It's not about physical talent and ability, because they have got it. They just need to get the work in together."
It all starts with Estes, who is just another in a long line of family members making his presence felt at the collegiate level. And maybe one day, he'll do it professionally as well.