CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Mike Washington made the most of an opportunity last week by returning a punt for a TD.
Subs get chance to shine on Hawaii’s special teams
For most of the players on Hawaii's special teams units, the kicking game represents an opportunity.
For those tucked behind the starters on the depth chart, it's a chance to contribute on the field.
For the kick returners, there's the allure of making the spectacular play.
And for those leading the way, it's an opportunity to impact the game, though perhaps in ways only a coach might appreciate.
"On special teams, some guys only get on the field maybe five or six plays a game, so it's 110 percent every single time," said junior defensive back Guyton Galdeira. "Coach (Dennis) McKnight talks about being junkyard dogs and just the willingness to play the play longer than your opponent."
The Warriors' return teams -- who accounted for one touchdown last year -- got off to a rousing start last week, opening the season by scoring on both a punt and kickoff return in UH's season-opening blowout of Northern Colorado. Also, Keenan Jones blocked a point-after try by the Bears.
Mike Washington juked his way to an 80-yard punt return in the third quarter and Malcolm Lane sprinted 94 yards on a fourth-quarter kickoff return.
"It's hard to sometimes get one or two in a year, and to get two in your first game is a tribute to how hard they worked in camp," said McKnight, who coordinates UH's special teams. "The guys believe and know how much emphasis Coach (June) Jones places on special teams. It's more than a third of the game, it's so vital. It changes momentum, it gives enthusiasm, it gets your crowd into it, it shuts the other crowd up."
Both of last week's special teams touchdowns were turned in by returners who weren't even first in the rotation. The game was already well in hand when Washington turned his first opportunity to touch the ball this season into the first touchdown of his career.
"As soon as I caught the ball I saw like five guys, so I just had to make one miss," Washington said. "That's the punt returner's job, you have to make the first guy miss, then you have to do your thing. So I just shook the other three or four."
Washington started one game at receiver as a freshman, but has played behind Bess and Ryan Grice-Mullins for most of his career. He concedes that waiting for his chances has been frustrating, but Saturday's breakout provided a release.
"It adds to the fire," Washington said. "So when I get my opportunities I'm definitely going to capitalize on it."
Lane also recorded the first score of his UH career, though his path wasn't quite as circuitous. The sophomore blazed straight down the right side without being touched thanks to blocks by Galdeira, Timo Paepule, Rustin Saole and Micah Lau, among others.
McKnight pointed out that Galdeira actually threw two blocks to help spring Lane.
"(The coaches) always talk about going to the next level," said Galdeira, whose work on special teams helped secure his ticket for the Warriors' road trip to Louisiana Tech and UNLV. "If you block your guy and you know he's secure, go to the next level and block somebody else. Don't be just satisfied with just blocking your one guy and say 'I did my job.' Do extra.
"When I see Mike and when I see Malcolm go by it's just a good feeling just to know that everybody did their job. Even though he's running it back and making the touchdown you know everybody's successful."
Louisiana Tech's Chris Keagle led Western Athletic Conference punters last week with six kicks averaging 49.8 yards and a long of 59 yards. But the length of his punts could give the UH returners room to operate.
"I'm not saying I'm going to return one. I'm not saying I'm going to be back there. I'm saying if I get the opportunity and I see that happen, something special is going to happen," Washington said.