UH WARRIOR FOOTBALL
Hawaii offensive line coach Brian Smith lauded John Estes for his balance and strong hands - assets that will be needed for a unit that sorely missed him during spring ball. "It's extremely important (to have him back fully healthy)," Smith said.
The junior anchor of the Warriors’ O-line says he's healthy and ready to face Florida in the 2008 opener
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Warrior Nation can breathe a collective sigh of relief.
Junior center John Estes - who was hampered by a pulled hamstring and held out for the bulk of spring practice - has declared himself fully healthy and anxious to begin fall camp after spending the summer at home in Stockton, Calif.
Willie Tuitama, Arizona's current starting quarterback and Estes' old teammate at St. Mary's High School, affirmed that his friend and former center seemed just fine when the two worked out at home earlier this summer.
"A bunch of us (from St. Mary's), we worked out, ran, it was like being in high school again, in a way," Tuitama said. "John seemed fine. We were going through normal everyday workouts. There wasn't really anything that made him stop or slow down."
Hawaii offensive line coach Brian Smith is ready to integrate Estes and the rest of the Warriors' probable starters for the daunting season opener at The Swamp.
"John's a kid who really has a passion for the game and is always playing, so I know he really didn't like sitting out of practice," Smith said. "With our whole line, everyone's excited about Florida and getting a chance to show what they can do."
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STAR-BULLETIN / 2007
John Estes feels primed for another standout season.
It seemed like old times.
Before the Sugar Bowl, before Hawaii's 12-0 regular season, and before Willie Tuitama went for 3,683 passing yards and 28 touchdowns with Arizona last year, there were the good old days at St. Mary's High School in Stockton, Calif., for Tuitama and Warrior junior center John Estes.
Some of those memories were rekindled for Estes this summer, when he and Tuitama joined some of their former teammates for workout sessions in their hometown in late May.
It was a refreshing experience after the disappointing 41-10 Sugar Bowl loss to Georgia - in which the Bulldogs exploded past the Warriors' offensive line to sack quarterback Colt Brennan eight times - and the ensuing frustrating month of spring ball that saw Estes sidelined with a pulled hamstring for all but one or two practices.
"That was kind of discouraging for a while just because you never want to lose, but I was just really disappointed how the offense played," said Estes of the Sugar Bowl. "That's just one thing that's been in my mind, and with Coach (June) Jones leaving and everything, it's gotta be the worst."
But between the comforts of spending a summer at home with old buddies and reinvigorating himself at the Biancani Fitness Center in Sacramento, Calif., Estes feels primed for his next year with the Warriors - and the tough task that awaits at Florida for the season opener Aug. 30.
"We just gotta hang in there," said Estes, who started all 13 games last year and was named first-team All-Western Athletic Conference. "Things can happen against us and we just gotta stay close with the teams we're playing. The Sugar Bowl was very relevant for us returning (players) because that's how it's going to be in Florida. It might be even louder, so we just gotta look at everything that went wrong in the Sugar Bowl and just turn that into something we're ready for."
Tuitama kept in contact with Estes throughout the Warriors' banner year, and realized how deeply the loss at the Louisiana Superdome must have affected his friend.
"He talked about it a lot, just because Georgia and Florida, it's somewhat the same type of defensive linemen - you've got big guys with speed," said Tuitama, whose mother is from Kailua and father was raised in Laie. "He wanted to come out just to show everyone that he could hang with anyone. But that's how John always was. ... I remember in high school, when we were going against one of the teams with the best D-line on paper, he would take it as a personal challenge."
The two helped lead St. Mary's to the Division I sectional championship their senior season, and they can count on one hand the number of games they lost over their entire prep careers.
Part of that had to do with Estes' paternal instinct for his signal-caller.
"He doesn't like when his quarterback gets hit at all," Tuitama said with a laugh. "I remember in high school there were a couple times I got hit and he came and pushed the other guy off, this and that, starting jawing with them. That's just how John is."
Hawaii offensive line coach Brian Smith lauds Estes for his balance and strong hands - assets that will be needed for a unit that sorely missed him during spring ball, when capable but untested players like Austin Hansen and Sila Lefiti had to adapt to a new position as redshirt freshmen.
"It's extremely important (to have him back fully healthy)," Smith said. "Like we all saw, the difference on the line vs. when he's not, there's a lot more confidence in the group, so the level of play was raised when he was in vs. when he wasn't."
Estes is looking forward to returning to the islands early next week, and rejoining his Warrior teammates for camaraderie and preparation. When he thinks back, it's funny how he went to Hawaii (where he has extended family) and Tuitama ended up at Arizona after they wrapped up high school in 2005.
"He was (drawn) to Hawaii, because his parents are from Hawaii," Estes said. "I was a big Arizona fan, because I had two cousins who played for Arizona. It was weird that we went to each other's schools."
Tuitama, now a senior for the Wildcats, is looking to build from last year's 5-7 season and has aspirations to play at the next level. He figures he's not done seeing his old friend on a football field just yet.
"Maybe me and John will be on the same team again," Tuitama said. "You never know."