Tackles live life on the edge


POSTED: Friday, April 10, 2009

It can be a contradictory existence at times.

Integral parts of the whole, yet often working in isolation.

Once linked on the left side of the Hawaii offensive line, Aaron Kia and Laupepa Letuli are living life on the edges as the Warriors' starting tackles this spring.

“;You're in a unit, but you're alone,”; Kia said. “;The whole offensive line, we have a lot of responsibility. But at tackle you're definitely working more in space.”;

Kia and Letuli, both fifth-year seniors, shared the left tackle spot for part of last season and later played next to each other when Letuli shifted to guard.

They expected to be playing side-by-side again this spring, but now find themselves on opposite ends of the line, Kia still on the left side while Letuli makes the adjustment to right tackle.

Letuli takes over a spot where Keoni Steinhoff started the last 27 games and said moving to the right side felt a bit awkward at first, “;but now I'm used to it and just getting that muscle memory.”;

The tackles play a critical role in the operation of the offense in shielding the Warrior quarterbacks from pass-rushing defensive ends and first-year offensive line coach Gordy Shaw has been pleased with the progress of the line through the first six practices of the spring. They'll get an early test tomorrow when the Warriors' travel to Maui for practice and a scrimmage.

“;(The tackles) get put on an island sometimes, so they have to be able to have the confidence in their abilities,”; Shaw said. “;We've tried to help them out a little bit with some of our changes in schemes to give them some help so they can be more aggressive outside or the inside.”;

Shaw said watching the 6-foot-4, 320-pound Letuli go through the Warriors' offseason conditioning program sold him on the move.

“;He's got good size, he's got excellent athletic ability and he's a strong individual,”; Shaw said.

Kia said he's fine tuning his game on the left side while playing next to Ray Hisatake, who is settling in at left guard this spring.

“;It's cool because Pepa is very talented,”; Kia said. “;Ray's good. We communicate, work with each other. Ray's going to be a good one.”;

Now that Letuli has shifted over to the right side, Shaw doesn't plan to make many more moves, preferring to keep players in one spot and let them develop.

Injuries contributed to some shuffling along the line last season and Letuli and Kia both dealt with various ailments. Letuli hurt his shoulder in the opener at Florida following a fall-camp competition for the left tackle job, which kept him out for an early-season stretch. Kia started the last 11 games while playing through nagging pain in his knees.

They entered the spring healthy and ready to adjust to yet another change in leadership at the position. The fifth-year seniors are the last group to be recruited by Mike Cavanaugh before he moved to Oregon State, and have had four other line coaches since then.

“;It's tough because it's like you get to know them and the next thing you know they're gone,”; Kia said.

Shaw said rather than overhaul the blocking scheme, he's made adjustments to the existing package.

“;They had a system they already learned and we built on that system to add a couple of things so when we get certain looks we're a little firmer inside and the quarterback has more area inside so he has room to maneuver,”; Shaw said.

The Warriors set an NCAA record for sacks allowed last season, a mark that can be attributed to the overall performance of an offense in transition although Kia acknowledged it does put the line “;under a microscope.”;

“;We're just trying to erase that and get that sour taste out of our mouth,”; he said.


Hurry up and wait

Nathaniel Nasca can't suit up for practice, but has shown up every day anyway.

A receiver for the Warriors last year, Nasca's football future is out of his hands while he awaits word on his appeal for a sixth year of eligibility.

“;I don't really know when they're going to tell me,”; Nasca said. “;I'm just waiting around, so I'm coming out, trying to stay in shape.”;

Nasca, a receiver, and running back Daniel Libre are hoping for another chance to play for the Warriors.

Nasca, a Pearl City graduate, suffered a torn hamstring during fall camp of his freshman year at Azusa Pacific which cost him the entire season.

“;It's all in the hands of God right now,”; Nasca said. “;Whatever His plan for me to do is going to happen.”;