McMackin's boys taking no chances in Las Vegas


POSTED: Monday, September 14, 2009

LAS VEGAS » Let me tell you about the gutsiest, most instinctive play I've ever seen by a University of Hawaii football player. If you follow the Warriors, it might not surprise you that it was by Nate Jackson. The circumstances, however, may.

He thought about it. He knew if he messed up, there'd be a lot of upset teammates.

“;Ahh,”; said Jackson, coming to a decision. “;I know this is against the book. But I've got a feeling.”;

He surveyed the green playing surface one more time. Then he made the call.

“;SPLIT 'EM!”;

Jackson's likely winner became two very big question marks. This was the equivalent of a safety blitz ... against a screen pass. He broke the first rule of blackjack. He split 10s.

But it worked. Because Jackson took two cards instead of none, the dealer ended up busting. Everybody at the full table won.

This was at the Reno Hilton. Two days later, nine years ago, a few days after 9/11, the Warriors were not as fortunate at Mackay Stadium. The altitude and sun and Nevada running back Chance Kretschmer wore down the Warriors in one of just three losses in 2001.

THE FACT that the Warriors under June Jones were allowed to do a little gaming on road trips probably didn't cause them to lose football games. They beat UNLV here two years ago. But coach Greg McMackin is taking no chances with games of chance. The players, even those of legal age, are not allowed to gamble this week. Curfew will be strictly enforced, he said.

I thought the team's security chief, Manny Rezentes, was kidding Saturday when he told me the team would be on “;lockdown”; here. But McMackin told Jason Kaneshiro and me yesterday that yes, the players are not allowed off the premises, except for practice. (Rezentes was joking, however, about putting up an electrical fence around the “;compound.”;) No forays downtown or to The Strip.

It's not exactly prison here; there's a bowling alley and a movie theater. And these guys are going to be busy with meetings and study hall sessions.

But what a test for some. They're living above a casino for a week.

One reason the team is here already is to adapt to the desert climate. In a sense, it's a gamble on UH's part. But McMackin is confident in the discipline and character of his players.

The coach said it comes down to one question.

“;Do they want to win this game or not?”;

AFTER THE 2001 Warriors lost at Nevada, they won eight of their last ten games. Jackson made another unorthodox move, this time on the field, blitzing when he was supposed to be in coverage. He blindsided David Carr, and the Fresno State quarterback's fumble allowed the Warriors to beat the Bulldogs.

Maybe bonding around the blackjack table helped that edition of the Warriors.

Maybe this group will bond through a shared pride of avoiding temptation just an elevator ride away.