Mission accomplished


POSTED: Tuesday, June 23, 2009

If YouTube were around in the 1990s, Darrick Branch would have his own channel.

With a college career chock-full of eye-popping moments, his playmaking skills made him a popular name on a team overflowing with talented players.

Ask Branch today to look back at his four years as a receiving and special teams star, and those highlights are just a tiny slice of the whole college pie.

“;The mission,”; as he calls it, is what stays with him.

“;There's only one first and that's what it was all about,”; Branch says. “;I remember coming here and talking with guys like Maa Tanuvasa and Travis Sims and Jason Elam and Jeff Sydner.

“;We had this dream of being special and being the first WAC champions. We talked about it before we even played and to accomplish it fulfilled so many dreams in itself.”;

Operation WAC Championship almost never took off. Branch was set to play for Illinois before the school was hit with recruiting violations, opening the door for the Carter (Texas) prep star to head west.

A trip to Hawaii showed him a world much different to the one he grew up in as a kid in Dallas.

“;I don't tell a lot of people about these things, but where I grew up was considered the inner city,”; Branch says. “;You'd go to parties at night and see fights and you'd see cars with bullet holes in them.

“;This was a chance to change all that.”;

Change also came to the culture surrounding UH football.

His senior season put Hawaii on the map nationally, capped by its first win in a mainland bowl. The '92 Holiday Bowl victory still ranks as arguably the biggest one in the 100-year history of the program.

Branch saved his biggest play for the most opportune time, sealing the victory with a 53-yard touchdown catch. His only reception iced a 27-17 win against the same Illini team from which fate sent him away.

“;(Offensive coordinator Paul) Johnson told me don't worry, be patient, we'll get you a big one,”; Branch recalls. “;We finally ran that play-action pass and I had to adjust and when I did, the guy fell down and I made the catch.

“;From there it was a foot race and the only guy at that time that was going to catch me was a guy on my own team—Matt Harding.”;

From the CFL to NFL Europe, Branch's pro career spanned the globe. But since returning to Hawaii in 2003 to play arena ball, he has witnessed a new brand of UH football.

Say goodbye to the triple option and hello to the run-and-shoot.

Branch was fourth all-time in receiving yards and third in touchdown receptions when he completed his career. Seventeen years later, four Warriors have more than doubled his receiving yards, and his TDs don't come close to cracking the top 10.

But, for the same reasons that made the Holiday Bowl team so special, Branch isn't one to harp on numbers. Records come a very distant second to the ultimate thrill of making the memorable play at the most crucial time.

“;Sure I'd get some easier touches, but the way we played, we only passed the ball when we needed a big play, so my time was usually when we needed it the most,”; Branch said. “;That's why things were always magnified for me, because I made plays when we absolutely needed them. There's something to be said about that.”;

Indeed there is, which is why Darrick Branch has a place among the UH greats.

Billy Hull is a Star-Bulletin sportswriter. We reveal five more UH greats tomorrow. See starbulletin.com for more on “;The Centurions.”;