Defense expected to drive Warriors
Greg McMackin regularly sported his WAC championship ring while dashing around town for various appearances and speaking engagements over a "fast-and-fun" summer.
But it'll be a while before that particular piece of jewelry weighs down his hand again.
Hawaii's head football coach vowed to tuck the ring away last week as he approached the opening of his first fall camp in charge, turning the focus from accomplishments past to the task ahead.
The Warrior newcomers reported to the dance studios -- the team's home for the 2 1/2 weeks of camp -- in the UH athletic complex yesterday, with the veterans scheduled to join them today. Practice begins at 10 a.m. tomorrow, with the season opener at Florida looming 26 days beyond.
Hawaii enters camp brimming with experience and talent on defense. On offense, several players whose contributions have been largely limited to practices will have their opportunity to step into the void left by the departures of quarterback Colt Brennan, four starting receivers and two offensive linemen.
Following is a look at the position races as camp opens tomorrow:
Names to know: Greg Alexander, Inoke Funaki, Tyler Graunke, Brent Rausch
Skinny: McMackin planned to have the above four (listed alphabetically) compete for the job, but Friday's announcement that Graunke would not open camp with the team could alter the timetable for determining Brennan's successor as the starter. Funaki closed the spring bracketed with Graunke, the most experienced of the group, for the top spot. Alexander and Rausch signed on following prolific junior college careers. Senior Jake Santos and redshirt freshman Shane Austin will also be in camp.
Names to know: Leon Wright-Jackson, Daniel Libre, David Farmer, Jake Heun, Jayson Rego
Skinny: All five of UH's top contenders bring different styles to the backfield. Wright-Jackson, the breakaway threat, and Libre, the shifty scatback, open as the leaders in the one-back offense. Farmer, who started six games in 2007, is known as a solid blocker, while Heun provides another option as a power back. Rego, the Star-Bulletin's offensive player of the year at Kamehameha in 2004, could emerge as a contributor after three seasons on the scout team.
Names to know: Aaron Bain, Kealoha Pilares, Mike Washington (slots), Malcolm Lane, Greg Salas (outside)
Skinny: Bain and Washington have been waiting their turns while Davone Bess and Ryan Grice-Mullins locked up the slot positions. Pilares made significant strides in his conversion from running back in the spring. Lane and Salas saw spot duty at wide receiver last season, while senior Dylan Linkner took a turn with the first group in the spring. Daniel Lofton has displayed good potential, too. McMackin expects speedy JC transfers Ryan Henry, Dustin Blount and Jovonte Taylor to push the returnees.
Names to know: John Estes (center), Aaron Kia, Keoni Steinhoff (tackles), Keith AhSoon, Lafu Tuioti-Mariner (guards).
Skinny: McMackin touts the line as the strength of the offense heading into camp and wants to have eight to 10 linemen ready to roll into the game. There was a noticeable difference in the line's cohesiveness when Estes, a Rimington Trophy candidate, was healthy enough to participate during spring drills. AhSoon has moved to guard after starting at tackle last season. Left tackle will be one of the position battles to watch, with Kia, Ray Hisatake and Laupepa Letuli (healthy again after sitting out spring ball) in contention.
Names to know: John Fonoti, David Veikune (ends), Fale Laeli, Josh Leonard, Rocky Savaiigaea, Keala Watson (tackles).
Skinny: On paper, Laeli is the only returning starter up front. In truth, the Warriors are plenty experienced along the front. Veikune's seven sacks led the team and ranked third in the WAC, while Fonoti contributed three sacks in a backup role. Leonard took the first-team reps in the spring while Laeli recovered from injuries. Savaiigaea was enjoying a strong spring before suffering a fracture in his leg, but should back to full speed.
Names to know: Solomon Elimimian (inside), Adam Leonard, Blaze Soares (outside).
Skinny: The hub of the defense, the linebacker corps could be among the best UH has produced. Elimimian and Leonard finished 1-2 in voting for WAC preseason defensive player of the year. When healthy, Soares ranks among the conference's hardest hitters. Brashton Satele is Elimimian's primary backup in the middle, but is also learning the outside spots, as McMackin wants to get the junior on the field. Tyson Kafentzis and R.J. Kiesel-Kauhane are first in line as backups on the outside.
Names to know: Ryan Mouton, Jameel Dowling (corners), Desmond Thomas, Keao Monteilh (safeties).
Skinny: Mouton figures to be among the busiest Warriors, holding down one corner spot while also expected to return kicks and perhaps make cameos on offense. Dowling, a 6-3 Oregon transfer, emerged as the leader at the other cornerback spot, but JoPierre Davis and Calvin Roberts are also in the mix. Safety will be among the deepest groups on the roster. Thomas and Monteilh started last season. Mana Silva, a converted quarterback, impressed the staff in the spring. Erik Robinson, Dane Porlas and Viliami Nauahi also return. Sophomore Kenny Estes could be the sleeper of the group.
Names to know: Dan Kelly (PK), Tim Grasso (P), Jake Ingram (LS).
Skinny: Kelly earned his "Iceman" moniker by hitting clutch kicks against Louisiana Tech and Nevada last season. Grasso averaged 39.7 yards on his 35 punts last season and rejoined the team after sitting out the spring and was recently awarded a scholarship. Ingram returns as a reliable snapper. Mouton and Lane are expected to be the primary returners and McMackin indicated more starters could serve in the kicking game. The Warriors worked primarily on punt protection in the spring and will implement the rest of the package this month.