Sports Watch

By Bill Kwon

Tuesday, April 16, 1996

UH takes first step back to respectability

The journey back to football respectability for the University of Hawaii Rainbows began with the first step yesterday - the opening day of spring football.

Football games are not won in the spring and spring football is a debatable diversion. This year, though, it has taken on an added significance because of a coaching change for the Rainbows.

And, if first impressions mean anything, Coach Fred vonAppen liked what he saw - especially the enthusiasm and intensity shown by his players.

"I liked these guys. They were revved up," said vonAppen, who at 54 is taking over as a head coach for the first time.

If the Rainbow players feel tentative about their new coaching relationship, the feeling is mutual for vonAppen, who had been an assistant coach for 31 years.

He felt a little lonely in his new role of overseeing the whole show instead of being involved in specialized sessions with linemen or linebackers as he did at Stanford, Arkansas, the San Francisco 49ers and Colorado - his last stop before being hired to replace Bob Wagner.

It became clearly evident, though, that vonAppen is in command, no ands, ifs or buts.

He had everybody's undivided attention. Players on the sidelines were involved with the same intensity as their teammates who were banging heads on the field.

Maybe the adrenaline flowed a little more than usual yesterday because it was the first practice. But don't be surprised if the same enthusiasm continues through the remaining 14 scheduled days of spring ball.

"There was a lot of enthusiasm out there," said sophomore wide receiver Dillan Micus, who thought it was because of the combination of first day of practice and the new coaching staff.

"We're running a new offense and defense and there's a whole different attitude in practice. Everyone's upbeat," Micus said.

"They brought the fun back to football," added senior defensive back Doe Henderson, referring to vonAppen and his coaching staff. Seven assistants are new, including offensive coordinator Guy Benjamin and defensive coordinator Don Lindsey.

Indeed, some of the new-look reaction drills were sights to behold:

Linebackers crouched low, fielding grounders, softballs tossed to them by linebacker coach Tom Williams.

"The intent there is to get both hands down and the head up," says vonAppen. "It's to get the kinesiology in the right order."

Or burly linemen batting around a huge red ball, weighing around 60 to 70 pounds.

"It looks pretty heavy with our guys. At Colorado, they batted it back and forth like it was a true beach ball. Not with our guys, so it means we'll need a little more work in the weight room," vonAppen said.

Fun and games with a purpose. Nevertheless, yesterday was only a modest first step.

"It was a little on the raw side as we thought it might be," vonAppen said. "But I was pleased we didn't have a lot of offsides. I thought we'd have about 50. We didn't fumble the ball too much. The timing between the throwing and the catching is light years away.

"The concentration was not bad for the first day. They're still learning how to practice our way. We've got so much to do, detail-wise. But I thought the intensity, the effort was there," said vonAppen, who calls himself an effort fanatic.

Among those at yesterday's practice were Paul Durham, vonAppen's former coach at Linfield and one-time UH athletic director, and Jesse Sapolu of the San Francisco 49ers.

"He's a motivator," says Sapolu, who was a rookie when vonAppen was the 49ers' special teams coach.

"The bad news is that we've got as long way to go," says vonAppen. "The good news is that we'll get there eventually."

And the first step has been taken.

Bill Kwon has been writing about sports for the Star-Bulletin since 1959.

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