Funaki's progress no running joke


POSTED: Sunday, April 12, 2009

WAILUKU » One Hawaii running back returned home to Maui.

Another made himself at home at his new position.

The Hawaii football team's day trip to the Valley Isle yesterday gave senior Jayson Rego a chance to perform in front of family and friends.

Once the Warriors got into their scrimmage at War Memorial Stadium, former quarterback Inoke Funaki wowed the nearly 3,000 fans in attendance with two long gains, including a touchdown.

“;He found a home, he really did,”; UH offensive coordinator Ron Lee said. “;He made a few guys miss, he has good vision, which we all knew. And he likes it, he sticks his nose in there blocking. ... He'll be a weapon.”;

The Warriors, making their first appearance on Maui since 2001, began the day with an hour of practice as fans trickled into the stadium. The turnout swelled by the time they broke into their first scrimmage of the spring.

“;I think this was a great deal,”; UH head coach Greg McMackin said. “;Jim Donovan came up with the idea and I jumped at it because we play for the state of Hawaii. I think we can do some other things like this.

“;We're only halfway through spring and to get this many people to a scrimmage in my mind is outstanding.”;

Most of the established starters on offense were held out as the coaches gave some of the younger players a chance to perform in a live situation.

The defense featured more of the first-team players, particularly in the secondary, where the Warriors are replacing the entire starting unit, as the team took its first taste of live tackling of the spring.

“;The tackling, I thought, was very good. There were very few missed tackles,”; McMackin said. “;I thought our running backs ran well. I thought Inoke showed that he can play running back. This will be a big-time film we'll look at and evaluate.”;

Funaki, making the transition from quarterback to running back this spring, turned in two of the afternoon's most electrifying plays with help from the offensive line. Aside from veteran center John Estes, the starting line played about a quarter of the snaps in the 62-play scrimmage.

After the offense's first two drives stalled, Shane Austin connected with Rodney Bradley for a 48-yard gain on his first throw of the scrimmage. On the next play, Funaki followed the right side of the offensive line to open field and bowled over a defensive back at the goal line for a 22-yard touchdown.

“;I think it didn't matter who was in the backfield on some of those plays. I think they would have broken it because the line did such a good job,”; Funaki said. “;They made me look a lot better than it probably was.

“;It's just like when you play as little kids. I've never actually trained running the ball. I just did what I did as a little kid growing up.”;

The next time he touched the ball, he turned a shovel pass into a 31-yard gain, weaving through defenders along the way—and again deferred credit for the play, this time praising Austin for letting the play develop.

“;The linebackers are watching the quarterback, and if he can really sell it like it's a pass, it opens it up for me,”; Funaki said “;I know Shane had a big role in that, because when I turned there was nobody around, everybody dropped off. Because I played quarterback I had a lot of appreciation for that.”;

For his part, Austin completed eight of 16 passes for 150 yards and scored the second touchdown of the day on a 1-yard keeper on the final play of the scrimmage.

“;With the crowd and everything, it almost felt like a little game there. It definitely brings out the adrenaline,”; Austin said.

“;I was comfortable. We've been working all this spring with the receivers and it came together today. Everybody was having fun.”;

Rego returned to his hometown of Wailuku and back to the field where he played high school ball before transferring to Kamehameha on Oahu.

He had three carries on the final drive of the scrimmage, and had a 5-yard touchdown run called back by a penalty. He ripped off a 12-yard gain down to the 2 and was stopped short of the goal line at the 1. Austin then scored on the keeper to close the day.

The Warriors return to practice tomorrow morning and have two more scrimmages planned for the spring. McMackin said more of the projected starters are expected to play in a scrimmage on Saturday afternoon on campus. They close the spring with the Warrior Bowl at Aloha Stadium on April 25.