Inoke Funaki, left, is at the top of UH's QB depth chart, followed by Tyler Graunke, center. Jake Santos, right, is also in the mix.
Warrior QB job up for grabs
Just go get it.
That's the philosophy that Nick Rolovich lived by as a Hawaii quarterback, and one he's imparting upon the next generation of Warrior signal-callers as their position coach.
Six quarterbacks will be out to impress the UH coaching staff in a series of 15 practices starting today. But regardless of which player emerges over the next month, the spring practice "winner" will have much to prove before he can be named the official starter at Florida on Aug. 30.
To guide a completely reconstructed offensive unit, new offensive coordinator Ron Lee is implementing some tweaks to the run-and-shoot offense -- such as directing the quarterbacks to take snaps from under center on occasion, a move intended to allow greater flexibility for running plays and bootlegs.
"What we're looking for from the quarterback is he stays within the scheme of things," Lee said. "Our routes and our reads will be a little bit different in the sense that they have to be aware that they can't just freelance. Colt (Brennan) had a lot of that -- he scrambled around, slid around. And they're gonna have to do that at times, but we're going to have to be very, very disciplined."
Kahuku graduate Inoke Funaki was cited for his improved leadership and desire in being penciled in at the top of the depth chart entering the first day of practice. He's followed by senior Tyler Graunke (recently reinstated after serving a suspension for a violation of team rules), and redshirt freshman Shane Austin, who impressed the coaches with his offseason workout regimen. In no particular order, former scout team leader Jake Santos, Iolani alum Kiran Kepo'o and Castle graduate Bryce Kalauokaaea round out the spring prospects.
Junior college transfers Greg Alexander and Brent Rausch arrive in the summer and could potentially win the starting job in the fall, as well.
"I anticipate change, switch-ups and shake-ups," Rolovich said. "We gotta see how people respond to situations."
Rolovich, once a backup to Tim Chang, etched his name in Hawaii football history by leading the Warriors to eight wins in nine games in 2001. He expects a positive attitude from each player regardless of where he begins on the depth chart.
"One thing I stress is, control what you do," he said. "Learn from (the others), and do what you can do with your reps. You can only control so much, and the things that you control, you deal with. The things that are out of your control, you let them happen, and the chips will fall where they will."
Graunke, considered the favorite to inherit the job from Brennan last season, doesn't see a reclamation of his alpha status as a given. He's been throwing every day with the likes of receivers Malcolm Lane, Michael Washington and former Warrior Chad Mock, and is banking on his game experience being a deciding factor.
"I'm approaching it very optimistically, actually," Graunke said. "Pretty much that's been my situation for my whole career, second string and fighting for that top spot. I don't consider this any differently. I'm going to be out to prove everybody wrong and to earn that spot."
In the absence of Graunke from the team's super games activities leading up to spring practice, Rolovich told Funaki that "rarely things fall into your lap in life in general."
The Kahuku graduate has been working diligently on improving his progressions in the pocket.
"It's kind of my personality to be real kick-back, laid-back, you know, island style," Funaki said. "I just wanted to show more. It's something I do want to do to help this team, be more of an example, a leader. Especially when the coaches named me No. 1."
Rolovich was impressed with the diligence that Austin, a walk-on from Camarillo, Calif., displayed by appearing in the coaches' offices at all hours, seeking knowledge of the system during this offseason. The freshman took snaps from under center exclusively in high school.
"I want to go open up at Florida -- I don't think of it as I'm the youngest guy out there," Austin said. "I'm thinking we're all kind of on an even playing field. I'm fighting for a job just as much as the next guy."
The dark horse could be Santos, a senior walk-on who won the scout team award last year.
"I'm totally aware of what my role could be on this team, a backup or being able to compete for a starting job," Santos said. "That's the way I look at it, as wanting to help my team win. Whatever's best for the team is what I want. My last year, so I just have to put it all out there on the line."
Kepo'o returns from a bicycle injury on campus and should be fully cleared to practice, although Rolovich said "his health is something we want to be careful with." Kalauokaaea, out of Castle High, is an "an impressive-looking athlete" to the coach and can't be discounted, either.
Rolovich conceded it's impossible to distribute reps evenly among all six candidates, as there must be a pecking order to start things off.
"This is their opportunity. It's under fire," Lee said.