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(quarter) Back to (running) Back


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POSTED: Monday, April 06, 2009

So, Inoke, is it weird to go from being protected ...

...”;To protecting the guy?”; Inoke Funaki finished off the question himself with a laugh.

Funaki is still grappling with that concept after one week of Hawaii football spring practice in the books. The senior from Kahuku was moved from quarterback to running back — at least for this spring — and is learning the skills of being a bodyguard in addition to an offensive weapon. (Coach Greg McMackin said Funaki may also get some reps at slotback this spring.)

He's coping with the transition by falling back on his knowledge of the Warriors' offense and his considerable strength and athleticism in his 5-foot-11, 190-pound frame.

“;Yeah, it is definitely different,”; Funaki said. “;I always joke around a lot, you know, giving the quarterbacks a hard time. Sometimes I joke around, but I'm always like, 'Don't worry, I got your back, I got your back.'”;

When the UH coaches decided on the experiment, they had plenty of last year's tape to dissect of Funaki taking off and running as a signal-caller. He went for 215 yards on the ground as a junior and showed some considerable footspeed.

But in the Warriors' run-and-shoot, the running back is used heavily as a blocker. Can Funaki stand up to the big boys?

Consider his first cross-examination a success after the Warriors strapped on pads for the first time on Saturday.

“;That was the big question — his blocking, and he's doing fine,”; offensive coordinator Ron Lee said. “;He's a tough guy and he'll play hard, so that wasn't the issue. It's just the size. But he's strong, and I think he'll be OK, as far as blocking.”;

Funaki realizes that as he picks up the fundamentals of being a back, he must show a willingness to take hits — even more than he showed in jaunts into opponents' secondaries last year.

“;Just gotta get into more of an aggressive mental state. Go and attack,”; he said. “;You got big guys coming, so you don't want to just be soft because you'll get blown back into the quarterback. I gotta go and meet them at the line of scrimmage and be willing to butt heads. If you don't go full speed, then you're going to get rolled.”;

Besides seniors Leon Wright-Jackson and Jayson Rego, the position is rife with first-year players for UH. Funaki doesn't separate himself from them because of his leadership or experience, though. Instead, he embraces the fact that he has much to learn and only a few weeks to do it in.

But it's that veteran know-how that could get Funaki on the field in a few months.

“;Inoke's going to get a real good look from us because we think he's a tremendous athlete, and can help us on Saturdays,”; running backs coach Brian Smith said. “;He's got a different feel to him than a lot of the younger players. He takes coaching very well, he's very calm, and understands coaching and how we're trying to approach him being a running back. I think he has a good understanding of what we want out of him, so he's responded really well to it.”;

Lee said the coaches would decide over the summer whether to make the move permanent.

No objections from Funaki there; he's ready to do whatever's asked of him. In the meantime, he'll do his best Secret Service impression.

“;It's definitely a different mind-set,”; Funaki said. “;I'm not looking at the routes anymore. I'm looking for guys to get my guy. It's cool though — I don't mind it at all. I like it. It's fun, I look forward to it.”;