Safeties silence doubters


POSTED: Tuesday, September 15, 2009

LAS VEGAS » Where were these guys last year?

They were around. You could see them at practice every morning. But Hawaii's current starters, juniors Mana Silva and Spencer Smith, were stuck in a logjam behind a bunch of other more experienced safeties.

They were limited to special teams. Now defensive backs coach Rich Miano calls them Special Forces.

In two games this season, Silva and Smith have provided some of the best and most consistent safety play UH fans have seen since future NFL player Miano himself patrolled the UH secondary in the 1980s.

Both have 14 tackles, with 10 each in the season-opening win over Central Arkansas. Silva intercepted two passes and Smith one in Saturday's 38-20 victory against Washington State.

The biggest number for them — and the rest of the defense that has played with no starters from last year — is zero. As in zero opposing passing touchdowns.

“;We want to eliminate big plays. Last year we gave up too many big plays,”; said Silva, following a weightlifting session yesterday as the Warriors began preparations for their game at UNLV on Saturday.


TIME WATCHING was time learning.

“;It's always frustrating when you're not playing. But I took it as a growing and learning experience,”; said free safety Silva, who transferred to UH after a true freshman year at Oregon State in 2006, where he was a reserve quarterback out of Kamehameha on the Big Island.

While Silva spent a year as a Beaver, Smith was biding his time redshirting for the Warriors. He went on all the road trips as a reserve, but never got in a game. In 2007 and again last year he played at safety only as a backup. He showed up well on kick coverage, and finally got an opportunity in the last game of the year.

“;I wasn't frustrated, but I was wanting to get in there and play, and I got my chance against Notre Dame (in the Hawaii Bowl).”;


THERE WAS no magic potion, no secret to what looks to some like instant success for Silva and Smith. Both never started before, but both project the swagger of veteran leaders.

“;Our chemistry is good,”; Silva said. “;We're able to communicate, and that was earned with extra time on the practice field. Being the first to get there, and the last to leave.”;

Smith said he and Silva and cornerbacks Jeramy Bryant and Tank Hopkins, as well as the rest of the defense, are motivated by doubters.

“;It's preparation. Both of us know what we're supposed to do, what has to be called. Both of us make sure we're on the same page. A lot of reps during fall camp. We're getting better each game. We're raising the bar. One of the biggest questions going into the season was our secondary. We've responded to the questions.”;


DESPITE THE departure of the program's career leading tackler the Warriors have so far shown an overall steadiness and aggressiveness on defense. Simply, they're in the right places, and they hit hard.

Both said the Warriors want to be known for swarming to the ball. For Smith, it's an attitude he learned from the man who recruited him to UH from Georgia, former defensive coordinator Jerry Glanville.

“;Coach Glanville used to say about gang tackling. 'There's always room for one more.' “;

As for the Warriors' last line of defense, Mana Silva and Spencer Smith prove a lack of starting experience doesn't mean you have to make rookie mistakes.