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Hawaii's special teams always go for the first-round knockout


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POSTED: Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The words “;K.O. Unit”; are emblazoned on the custom T-shirts worn by the Hawaii kick coverage team.

“;A double meaning,”; kicker Dan Kelly says. “;Kickoff, and knockout.”;

We can't call UH's special teams consistent yet (it was just a week ago that coach Greg McMackin labeled the kickoff return a “;suicide mission”;).

But they were spectacular in Saturday's win against Nevada, and after a horrific start they're a major reason UH has won three of its last four games. Don't forget Kelly's game-winning field goal and Ryan Mouton's kickoff return for a touchdown at Fresno State.

Last year, Tim Grasso was as useful as an ukulele player in a heavy metal band as the Warriors rarely needed a punter, other than to hold for extra points.

Now McMackin says Grasso is “;probably our MVP”; after he pinned Nevada near the goal line three times.

J.P. Davis has gone from forgotten cornerback to gunner extraordinaire, downing Grasso punts at the Wolf Pack 2 and 1.

Nevada's average starting line was its own 22—compared to the 35 for Hawaii, thanks to many happy returns by Malcolm Lane and Aaron Bain.

UH special teams coordinator Ikaika Malloe missed a couple of practices with an appendectomy. But Nevada coach Chris Ault was the one sick to his stomach after Hawaii won 38-31.

When McMackin sees a kickoff coverage he likes, he calls it a car wreck. It especially pumps up the team and the crowd when a compact model like Richard Torres inflicts the damage.

“;Kahuku Munchkin,”; the coach calls Torres, eyes alight with glee over little guys “;kicking tail.”;

Another menacing menehune, Guyton Galdeira, was a professional dancer a few weeks ago. He's rejoined the team and the coverage unit—back to blowing up opposing players, some with nearly a hundred pounds and a foot of height on him.

Kelly loves to make a tackle and inform the return guy he was stopped by the kicker. But all these stops behind the 20 cut into his action.

He doesn't mind.

“;Nope, not at all, it's not really in my job description anyway. And I enjoy watching (teammates) lay out guys. That's more entertaining for me.”;

True for the rest of the Warriors and their fans, too; if Kelly is forced to make a tackle it's considerably farther downfield.

Saturday's opponent, Utah State, had the WAC's best kick returner, Kevin Robinson, for four years. Robinson's college career—which included a touchdown on a kickoff return against UH last year—is finally over. Without him this fall, the Aggies average just 19.2 yards overall per kickoff return with no TDs, but Kejon Murphy is a threat at 32.4 in five runbacks.

The K.O. Unit remains wary.

“;The guys have come to understand we set the tone, kickoff and kickoff return. We wake everybody up,”; Kelly says. “;Special teams needs to be our phase. Utah State took it to the house against us last year, and we have to make sure that doesn't happen.”;