Heading into the 'unknown'


POSTED: Tuesday, September 01, 2009

On its surface, a 7-7 record offers the impression of a relatively nondescript season.

But Greg McMackin's first year at the controls of the Hawaii football program was hardly uneventful on the way to the Warriors' break-even finish.

The season was bookended by matchups with two of college football's most storied programs — opening with a cross-country trek to face eventual BCS champion Florida and closing against Notre Dame in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl.

From a 1-3 start to a tie for second in the Western Athletic Conference and a third straight bowl appearance, perseverance through adversity became a theme for the Warriors and their retooled coaching staff.

McMackin approaches his second season calling the 2009 edition an “;unknown”; team, a collection of solid football players if not marquee names.

While uncertainty can be unnerving for some, the task seems to energize McMackin.

“;We have to play together as a team, unite, get chemistry,”; McMackin said. “;This is really going to be a fun team to coach because we've really got to coach. I really am excited about this.”;

Where developing an identity on offense was a running theme for much of last season, the Warriors begin 2009 strengthened through enduring the transition.

Senior quarterback Greg Alexander returns with a stronger grasp of the offense and a firm grip on the starting job after taking control of the position late last season.

He'll work with a receiver corps led by slotbacks Greg Salas and Kealoha Pilares, while Jovonte Taylor and Rodney Bradley have the speed to stretch the field on the perimeter.

Jon Medeiros, Ryan Henry and Dustin Blount can also contribute at slotback, while Royce Pollard and Joe Avery are looking to carve out playing time on the outside.

“;I don't think there's any comparison,”; Alexander said of the offense's progress in his second season in the system. “;We're so much further along this year than last year. Everybody's knowledge of the offense is so much further along, last year is kind of like a blur.”;

Competition for playing time in the single-back offense has tightened with the return of Leon Wright-Jackson and the additions of former quarterback Inoke Funaki and junior-college transfers Alex Green and Chizzy Dimude.





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The O-line was among the team's most scrutinized units last year, when the Warriors averaged more than four sacks allowed per game. The improved efficiency of the passing game could lighten the load on the line, a senior-laden group anchored by center and All-America candidate John Estes.

McMackin's ability to craft a defense will be tested with the Warriors returning one full-time starter in end John Fonoti.

Fonoti's size, speed and burst off the line of scrimmage make him a potential playmaker for a line replacing second-round draft pick David Veikune.

The tackles must hold their ground for the rest of the scheme to function. Vaughn Meatoga, Rocky Savaiigaea and Tuika Tufaga will rotate with the starting unit.

The defense's middle level was stripped of starters by graduation and injuries. Solomon Elimimian and Adam Leonard completed their eligibility last year and Brashton Satele had season-ending shoulder surgery last week.

Senior tri-captain R.J. Kiesel-Kauhane is now the most experienced member of the unit with four starts last season. Blaze Soares is getting back up to speed after missing all of last year with an injury. Mana Lolotai steps in for Satele in the middle.

The defensive secondary enters the season as the greenest of the units after losing nine scholarship athletes .

Jeramy Bryant locked down a cornerback spot, while junior safeties Mana Silva and Spencer Smith turned in solid performances in camp after waiting their turns to contribute.

Junior college transfer Aaron Brown entered camp as a safety, but will contribute as a hybrid safety/linebacker in nickel packages.