UH WARRIOR FOOTBALL
PHOTOS BY MIKE BURLEY / MBURLEY@STARBULLETIN.COM
New UH head football coach Greg McMackin calls center John Estes"the focal point of our offense."
Estes centers offense
Last spring, John Estes felt like his foundation was "crumbling" under him.
Now that his base is fully healed, Estes is back as the central figure of the Hawaii offensive line.
The junior center started all 27 games the last two seasons, establishing himself among the Western Athletic Conference's top linemen. But a nagging hamstring injury limited his mobility and effectiveness in the spring.
With time and rest, the injury healed, he regained strength in his legs over the summer and the effects were evident in UH's first set of one-on-one drills between offensive and defensive linemen yesterday, stonewalling his opponents at the line.
"It's a lot better now that I've fixed my hamstring. I can actually hunker down a little bit," Estes said. "Last spring I'd just get bullrushed every time because I didn't have legs.
"When you're (in the team period), you're going to try your hardest. But when it's one-on-one, you know everyone's watching. People on the hill, coaches, everyone on the line, they're all watching you."
Estes returns as hub of the line, one of two linemen starting in the same positions they occupied last season. Right tackle Keoni Steinhoff is the other, as Keith AhSoon moved from left tackle to guard.
"I would say he's the focal point of our offense, he's who we all circle around," head coach Greg McMackin said. "He's a great player, he's a quiet leader and he's very well respected. When he's in there, we're a whole different offense. He sets the tone."
While Estes appears entrenched in the middle, the left tackle race between Aaron Kia and Laupepa Letuli - also among the top performers in yesterday's drill - remains tight, and "it's going to keep getting tighter," offensive line coach Brian Smith said.
"Those two are going to get a lot of reps. I'm planning on playing all three of those (tackles). We're planning on going to Florida with eight to 10 linemen ready to play.
"(Letuli's) had a real good start of camp. We'll keep pushing him and getting him reps and keep him learning. He should be a big-time contributor for us."
Smith also pointed to junior Ray Hisatake as one who enjoyed a solid day. Hisatake began camp in the tackle race, but Smith said he's adapted well in moving to guard this week.
On the other side of the line, senior tackle Joshua Leonard - carrying 40 more pounds than last season - twice bulled into the backfield during the drill.
Last year, Leonard arrived on campus planning to play defensive end and weighed in at 265. He was moved inside to tackle, where he posted 21/2 sacks and recovered three fumbles.
This summer, he concentrated on putting on weight - checking in at 305 - to hold up better against double teams. He said training at Velocity Sports Performance in Sacramento, Calif., helped him maintain quickness while carrying more weight.
"I just ate a lot of meals, a lot of protein shakes," Leonard said. "Ate Burger King every day.
"I was recruited for D-end, never played inside before. So when they shoved me inside it was a new thing because I used to one-on-ones instead of being double teamed. Now I've got a year under my belt to get used to that."
Overall, head coach Greg McMackin was pleased with the effort on both sides of the line.
"(The offensive lineman have) really improved their technique and fundamentals," McMackin said. "I give Brian Smith a lot of credit, he's getting those guys going.
"That's a competitive drill. We had to pull some guys off of each other, which is just what I want. I don't want to have to push them together, I'd rather pull them apart."