Hill shows human side to Hawaii
A lot of Hawaii's football players don't know Fresno State coach Pat Hill personally, but they know the stereotype associated with him.
"His stigma is that he's a really nasty guy," linebacker Solomon Elimimian said.
The Warriors and Bulldogs have built a rivalry in the Western Athletic Conference, giving last night's game a special feel to it.
When the smoke cleared, the Warriors pulled out a tough-nosed 37-30 victory, but the physical nature of the game was evident in the locker room afterward.
Linebacker Adam Leonard's face was bruised and sore. Defensive end Karl Noa was still breathing heavily long after the game had ended, slowly pulling tape off of his sore body. Blaze Soares sat down to catch his breath, nursing various injuries.
Banged up, but relieved at still being undefeated, the entire football team quickly jumped to its feet when coach June Jones entered the locker room.
"Everyone up," Jones said.
In a sight rarely seen in college football, Hill walked into the opposing team's locker room moments after a grueling game.
He was not made available all week to the media, and his Bulldogs' locker room was closed after the game.
Yet, for the coach of a team who is supposed to be one of Hawaii's most hated opponents, it was important enough for him to address the entire UH team and offer Hawaii words of encouragement for the rest of the year.
"You've got a good football team here," Hill said. "We knew it was going to be a fight and it was fun. I like playing teams that are strong. I like this conference."
It was a sight that left a lot of Warriors shaking their heads. Soares, Noa and Elimimian admitted to never seeing an opposing coach walk into the postgame locker room.
"He showed a lot of respect by coming in here and congratulating our team," Elimimian said. "That's something you don't forget."
It's easy to hate a smashmouth football team like Fresno State. Even trailing three touchdowns to the Warriors in the fourth quarter, the Bulldogs' strategy did not change. They kept handing the ball off to tailback Lonyae Miller and Clifton Smith among others, and dared Hawaii to stop them.
"We were waiting for them to start throwing the ball, but they just kept running," Elimimian said. "It caused us a lot of problems."
They rushed the ball 44 times in all, which is amazing considering they were down by 17 points just 9 minutes into the game. Yet they just plugged away, and in the end, gave Hawaii quite a scare.
In past years, Hawaii would be jumping up and down in celebration of beating their rivals from the West Coast.
Maybe they were too tired to celebrate. Maybe they realize they have a lot more to accomplish this season.
But the thing more evident than ever before is the respect that these two rivals now share.
"They play like their mascot," Noa said. "Bulldogs. You can tell they play up for their coach. He's a great leader.
Hawaii and Fresno State will always be a rivalry, but as evident in the home team locker room last night, it has become much more of a healthy one.