The D Line
Receivers run the race to the end
You watch Aaron "Yoda" Bain and Mike Washington, and you wonder.
Why are they still here?
Bain: "A lot of people asked me that, even when I was a freshman. There were so many guys ahead of me. Jay Ferg, Davone, a whole bunch of people. But people came and went. If you do something, do it all the way. I'm not going to pull out halfway through the race."
Washington: "Transfer? Oh yeah, I thought about it. Most definitely. I had that transfer thing in my mind. But that's thinking negatively. I'm here for a reason."
The reason is the season. This one.
Both senior slotbacks at the top of the Hawaii depth chart finally have a real chance at meaningful playing time. Finally, after three years of running endless routes and catching thousands of passes -- in practice.
They've always been stuck behind Davone Bess and Ryan Grice-Mullins, rock stars from the first time they took the field at Aloha Stadium, talented and productive. But could they have been even better with a Bain or Washington giving them a break here and there?
Criticizing the ways of June Jones is at once easy and hard. Easy because he's no longer here, hard because they usually worked.
One of Jones' rules was to let the players play ... if they were the starters.
There were plenty of days when Bess and RGM were too sore to practice (remember last December?), and Bain and Washington kept Colt Brennan and Tyler Graunke on target. They got to be No. 1, until game time.
When RGM got hurt early in 2006, it appeared Bain would start. But Bain fell victim to Ross Dickerson's versatility; Dickerson was moved from wideout to slot and Yoda was yo-yoed from No. 2 to No. 1 to No. 2 in the space of a couple of days.
Washington returned a punt for a TD last year. But Bess, who struggled with the role, kept the job. Washington seethed.
Then, he and Bain finally caught a break as Bess and RGM left a year early.
Greg McMackin and Ron Lee believe in keeping receivers' legs and minds fresh. Mack stresses this ain't AYSO, but if a guy can help the team win he'll get some run.
"We used to practice with four guys," Lee says. "Now we're practicing with 12. Everybody's going hard and fast. That makes us better."
The philosophy will transfer to games, we're told, particularly the season opener at the sauna known as The Swamp. So while it is finally time for Bain and Washington to shine, they'll share the spotlight. Gifted understudies like Kealoha Pilares lurk closely.
It sounds like Washington has learned how to deal with all this.
"The more you get frustrated, the more you put yourself in a hole," he says.
Ron Lee says they're ahead of the pack, but they're not guaranteed a thing.
"They waited a long time. Now they have the chance and they're seizing the moment. They're practicing hard, and so are the other guys."
Says Bain, "I know I've got my little idiosyncrasies to work out."
You can take it for granted they won't assume a thing.
Aaron Bain and Mike Washington are still here.