Taylor primed for kick return duty


POSTED: Friday, August 28, 2009

Jovonte Taylor's speed makes him a threat every time he settles under a kickoff.

His field vision and feel for reading blocks have been honed through his experiences dating back to his Pop Warner days.

But an effective kick return comes down to an attribute less evident to the casual observer.

“;It takes a lot of trust,”; Taylor said. “;You have to have faith in all your guys that they're going to do their job. If not, it could be nasty. But we all have faith in each other to know that we're going to get it done.”;

Taylor is the leading contender to return kickoffs for Hawaii this season, and the Warriors hope his combination of speed and elusiveness can ignite the return game.

Along with Taylor, Kealoha Pilares and Royce Pollard have also taken turns returning kicks in practice.

The Warriors turned in several big plays in the return game last year. Malcolm Lane, who is redshirting this season, ranked 18th in the country in kickoff returns and Ryan Mouton's touchdown return at Fresno State sparked a historic road win for the Warriors.

Taylor flashed his potential with three returns for 57 yards against Florida, but he missed most of the season due to an illness.

“;It's something I've always done,”; Taylor said.

“;You have to read your blocks, but it comes natural. ... You have to have that feel for it. You have to be fearless. You have to know sometimes you're going to get hit. But you just have to get up and get back to it.”;

While returner is the spotlight performer on the unit, breaking a big gain depends on the work of those in front of him.

“;Kickoff return is a lot about timing,”; Hawaii special teams coordinator Chris Tormey said. “;So everybody has to pick their man up at the right time at the right place on the field and keep proper leverage, and understand where the threats are. And Jovonte just needs to trust in his teammates and hit that thing full speed.

“;It's all about faith, belief without evidence. Because you have to hit that thing believing that hole's going to be there.”;

The front line, a mix of safeties and linebackers, absorbs the initial push from the coverage team. The wedge then forms in front of the returner, leading him into the fray. Reserve running back Jayson Rego has been the hub of the wedge in practice, flanked by Victor Clore and Paipai Falemalu.

“;There's a lot of detail that goes into it,”; Tormey said. “;(Rego's) got to have a little center fielder in him. He has to do a good job of getting back in front of the returner and having the proper distance.”;

Punt returning is an area where the Warriors are seeking improvement. Hawaii ranked last in the country (119th) in that category with a total of 62 yards in 31 returns.

Junior receiver Ryan Henry has gotten the most work returning punts, a role he's eyed since he arrived on campus. Dustin Blount and Greg Salas have also gotten work fielding punts in practice.

“;It's something I take pride in. I take it serious. It's something I did in JUCO and high school and had fun with it,”; Henry said.

Salas, known for his sure hands, said he hasn't returned punts since high school, but “;you just have to keep practicing it and it comes back to you. It's like riding a bike,”; he said.

“;The main thing is to secure the catch, not let it bounce and just give us better field position. That's all I want to do.”;

The Warriors open the season a week from today against a Central Arkansas team that gave up a total of 25 yards on punt returns last season. Punter Jonathan Beard is back after leading the Southland Conference in net punting at 40.3 yards per punt

“;They've got a very nice scheme, they do a great job, so it's a great challenge for us,”; Tormey said.


Leatigaga injures knee

Reserve defensive tackle Chris Leatigaga was carted from the field during last night's practice at Aloha Stadium with an apparent knee injury. Leatigaga was injured during 1-on-1 line drills and trainers stabilized his leg on the sidelines. He was taken out of the stadium in a van and had and MRI performed last night.

“;Just hope and pray everything's OK,”; UH head coach Greg McMackin said.