UH WARRIOR FOOTBALL
Pilares slotted for plenty of playing time
It's not easy to go from the spotlight to the shadows.
Yet Kealoha Pilares has impressed his Hawaii coaches and teammates with his ability and attitude since moving from a visible perch at running back to a deep slotback unit, where he currently backs up Aaron Bain on the right side.
"He needs to be on the field and be on the field a lot."
UH receivers coach, on slotback Kealoha Pilares
He was effectively a starter last year as a freshman, taking 68 of Hawaii's handoffs in the backfield - more carries than this season's front-runners, Leon Wright-Jackson and Daniel Libre took combined. That was despite actually starting only one game.
A big part of Pilares' success at his new position is not allowing himself to think he's prepared in body or mind, despite going hard every week since the spring.
"No, not yet, just every day I'm trying to come out here and focus, get better, trying to learn from all the coaches," Pilares said. "Just watching videos, there's stuff that we can improve on. Coach Ron (Lee, the offensive coordinator) is stressing the little points now, just come out here and strive for perfection."
Through persistence, he's getting there.
"He has handled it really well," graduate assistant and receivers coach Craig Stutzmann said. "I tell you what, he's going to get just as much playing time as the ones, as long as he gets his plays down right and he gets the fine-tuning."
At 5-11, 190 pounds, Pilares feels comfortable enough where he is to call slot his "natural position." On the other hand, he joked (or was perhaps serious) that he could play both running back and slot if called upon.
He'll be busy enough. Stutzmann explained that Pilares would be the first man off the sidelines when Bain or left slotback Mike Washington need a breather or time to confer with the coaches.
Since the Damien Memorial School graduate is still in the process of absorbing the entire playbook on the right side at "Y," the coaches don't want to overload him by placing him at Washington's "H" slot in those situations. Instead, the experienced Bain will slide over to the left and Pilares will fill in on the right.
That philosophy is a departure from June Jones' theory of coaching. He usually played all four starting receivers - C.J. Hawthorne, Jason Rivers, Ryan Grice-Mullins and Davone Bess - extensively from start to finish.
The idea this year is to keep everybody fresh and add as much depth to the unit as possible. And, of course, to make use of Pilares' considerable talent.
"It's going to be a constant rotation," Stutzmann said. "Kealoha, we can't waste a guy like that. He's probably one of our best athletes on offense - he needs to be on the field and be on the field a lot."
Pilares realizes that those in front of him have put in countless hours to prepare for their big opportunity this season, but that won't stop him from hustling during each snap in practice as he hones his routes and continues to impress with acrobatic grabs.
"I know Yoda (Bain) and Mike, they've been here a long time and are just waiting for their shot," Pilares said. "But like everyone, I want to start, but team comes first and I think this year's team is way different from last year's team because we have depth. Everyone's going to be running hard every play. Guys can just come and fill in from where Mike and Yoda started. That's what we're trying to work on, depth, and just having Coach (Lee) leave us with confidence."
Bain and Pilares communicate often about different looks from the UH defense during practices, something that should carry over to game days.
Bain, a senior, is proud to have the capable Pilares there to back him up, and looks forward to the occasions when they might line up together on the field.
"Me and him, we're in the same position so we've been learning a lot," Bain said. "If he was to step up to the line next to me I would feel confident, just like if he was another returnee, someone who was there just as long as me.
"I want to see him in the open field with the rock."