CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Quarterback Inoke Funaki, left, says of receiver Aaron Bain, right: "You just feel Yoda knows his stuff and ... he brings more unity. ... He's often helping the younger folks."
Yoda hopes to be a force
The senior slot has a shot at becoming a starter, but he is also sharing his wisdom
It should come as no surprise that the youngest members of the Hawaii receiver corps seek out Yoda for wisdom.
Aaron Bain doesn't have the Force, but there's a mystique about the senior slotback out of Saint Louis School that his fellow Warriors have come to respect.
"It's one of those, what do you call it, intangibles," said junior quarterback Inoke Funaki of Bain's aura. "You just feel Yoda knows his stuff and, not only that, he brings more unity. Yoda, he's often helping the younger folks that are still learning. He has that capability."
The 5-foot-9, 190-pound walk-on earned the Star Wars moniker not for his insight, but for his height -- or lack thereof -- while trying out for the Saint Louis intermediate team as a seventh-grader. Despite being a head shorter than the receivers he competed against, Bain came down with some impressive catches that earned him the namesake of a Jedi master throughout high school.
After he was invited to the Warriors' fall camp in 2005, the title carried over instantly. To this day, after each impressive grab Bain makes in spring ball, the inevitable cry of "Yoda!" follows from his comrades.
"Sometimes my teammates don't even know my real name," Bain said with a grin. "They just know me as Yoda, that's it. That's cool with me, I like that name. If you call me by my real name, I'll think I'm in trouble."
Around the team, "95 percent" of the time he's known as Yoda, he said. "I don't even hear my real name unless it's, like, my grandma at home."
Bain has been a go-to presence this spring for the next generation of Warriors receivers, much like the authority departed slotbacks Ryan Grice-Mullins and Davone Bess had last season as juniors. It doesn't matter that he's looking at the best chance of his career to earn a starting job.
"Because they made the team, they're part of the family," Bain explained without hesitation. "We're all the same receiving corps, so we gotta do whatever it is to take care of our own. I want to do it, because I want to see everybody do well, make our team better as a whole."
His primary pupils are Kealoha Pilares and Jon Medeiros at slotback. He's also tutored freshman Ben Noy.
"He's helping a lot, trying to teach me pre-snap reads," Noy said. "He's telling me how to break."
Craig Stutzmann played the same position as Bain at Saint Louis and UH. He coached Bain his senior season with the Crusaders in 2004, and is doing so again as a graduate assistant.
"His biggest asset back then was that he ran the routes really well," Stutzmann said. "He's come a long way in four years. When I heard he was going to come here, I knew he would have a good chance to do well at the position. His work ethic is second to none. He might not be the biggest or fastest guy at the position, but no one has a bigger heart."
On a play this week in team drills, Funaki fired a pass across the middle that appeared up for grabs. Bain leapt high among a crowd that included All-Western Athletic Conference linebacker Adam Leonard, managed to come down with the ball and earned whistles of appreciation (and "Yoda!" cries) from several teammates.
"Yoda definitely bailed me out on that one -- great catch," Funaki said. "Yoda knows his stuff. He's just been waiting for his opportunity."
He could get it. Bain is one of several receivers heavily experienced in team practices but considerably less seasoned in actual game time. Bain, Malcolm Lane, Mike Washington and Greg Salas are the frontrunners for the top four positions going into the summer.
"Aaron made catches every year, the last three years. Now he's got a chance," offensive coordinator Ron Lee said. "The thing with these guys, they've gotta get better in practice, and come Saturdays, when the lights go on, then you see who can play."
In three years, Bain has caught 17 passes for 230 yards and three touchdowns, including two as a freshman.
Lane, a junior wideout, was similarly trapped behind the WAC's offensive unit of the year -- Grice-Mullins, Bess, C.J. Hawthorne and Jason Rivers -- in 2007, and figures Bain is ready for his chance to shine.
"Aaron Bain has a great influence on me, myself. I look up to him, he's a hard worker and he's been here for a while," Lane said. "He never really got the opportunity I felt like he deserved, and I'm happy for him that he's going to get a chance to prove himself."
Bain by the Numbers
Hawaii senior slotback Aaron Bain, left, is expected to step in as a starter this year after three seasons as a part-time contributor. Here are his yearly statistics:
Rec.: 3 vs. Charleston Southern, Sept. 22, 2007
Yds.: 41 vs. Charleston Southern
TDs: 1, three times
Source: University of Hawaii sports information department