Springing forward


POSTED: Thursday, April 09, 2009

Special teams was more than a proving ground for Spencer Smith.

True, charging downfield and delivering a big hit on the kickoff team is a way to impress the coaches. But Smith didn't really need any more motivation to perform his duty.

“;To me that's the best thing in football,”; Smith said. “;It's the first play of every game. I love opening on kickoff.”;

Smith was a mainstay in Hawaii's coverage and return units and is working to add to his workload in the fall as he competes for a starting job at safety.

Smith has been a first-string safety through the first five practices of the spring alongside Mana Silva.

“;I felt like it was my time to prove I could play,”; the junior from Marietta, Ga., said. “;Coach (Rich) Miano always says you have to earn your stripes on special teams first. Now I have to earn my stripes on defense.”;

Smith is part of a rebuilding project in the secondary after the Warriors lost safeties Keao Monteilh, Erik Robinson and Desmond Thomas last year.

He'd been just outside of the top units since joining the program in 2006. While he played a reserve role in practice the last two seasons following a redshirt year, Smith established himself as a key member of the kickoff and punt teams in 2007 and again last season.

“;He was our best special teams player,”; UH head coach Greg McMackin said. “;When I came here (in 1999 and 2007), I looked at the special teams guys because usually the best players on special teams are going to be a good defensive player for you. He was our best special teams player last year and I expect him to see a lot of time this year.”;

Along with getting the first-team repetitions at free safety, Smith also saw some action as a nickel back in yesterday's practice along with cornerbacks Richard Torres and Jeramy Bryant.

Although he spent most of his time on special teams, Smith got extensive playing time at safety in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl last Christmas Eve.

“;The Notre Dame game was good experience for me because I got to play almost the whole second half. I think that gave Coach Miano a little more confidence in me for the spring,”; he said.

“;I was real nervous at first, but after I get that first hit out of the way I'm fine.”;

While Smith strives to earn a starting job on defense come the fall, he doesn't want to leave behind special teams.

“;He'll be one of our key special teams players. He's a guy we need to count on,”; said Chris Tormey, the Warriors' new special teams coordinator and safeties coach. “;We're looking for leadership in that area and I see him as one of our team leaders in special teams.”;

While Smith works on covering ground as the Warriors' last line of defense, he's traveled quite a distance just to be part of the program.

He's one of just five players on the UH roster whose hometowns are east of Texas (Chris Black, Malcolm Lane and Rick Taylor are from Florida. Cameron Allen-Jones is from Maryland). But the transition to island life wasn't as jarring as it might sound. His father coached rugby in Georgia and Florida, often bringing Smith into contact with Polynesians playing the sport in the area.

“;I always tried to introduce people to (rugby),”; said Smith, who returned to Georgia last year when the Warriors practiced in Atlanta prior to their opener at Florida. “;We actually had 15-on-15 a couple times. It was fun.”;


Paredes moves up

Cory Paredes enjoyed playing on both sides of the ball in high school and didn't mind being moved from linebacker to running back last year. But now that he's back in a green practice jersey, he feels right at home.

“;I like being physical, so linebacker is fun,”; Paredes said. “;I like the mentality of the defense.”;

Like Smith, Paredes saw most of his action on special teams last year and jumped at the chance to practice with the first team at outside linebacker yesterday morning.

Paredes was a two-way player at Castle High, playing both wide receiver and linebacker for the Knights. That versatility came in handy last year when he started the season at linebacker but was moved to offense when injuries left the Warriors thin at running back.

“;It wasn't too bad because I was just going with the flow,”; Paredes said. “;Wherever coach wanted me, I was just thankful to be helping out the team.”;


The Wright stuff

Running plays don't get called very often in practice in the Warriors' pass-first offense. So Leon Wright-Jackson relished the chance to stretch his legs when given a chance ... and a hole.

Wright-Jackson took a handoff and burst through an opening before meeting up with safety Kenny Estes in one of the day's most jarring collisions.

“;Our linemen are really feeling the run,”; Wright-Jackson said. “;What Coach (Gordy) Shaw is doing with them is really helping our run blocking. If it wasn't for them there wouldn't have been a hole, that's all them.”;

Wright-Jackson entered the spring as the Warriors' top running back after being slowed by a foot injury for much of last season.

“;Just trying to have fun,”; he said. “;It's my last year with the boys, so I'm just trying to have fun with them and have a great senior year.”;