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Young special-teamers are making some noise


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POSTED: Thursday, September 17, 2009

LAS VEGAS » If you want to get a glimpse at a college football team's future, keep an eye on its special teams. That's where young players usually get their first chance to make an impression.

Mike Wadsworth certainly did last Saturday against Washington State. The freshman who played high school ball here in Las Vegas recovered a fumble and made two tackles on kickoffs behind the Cougars' 20 as Hawaii won 38-20. Coach Greg McMackin named him UH's special teams player of the game.

“;I'm happy I had the opportunity to make the travel squad and do my job and make some plays to help the team,”; Wadsworth said after a practice at Palo Verde High School earlier this week.

THE HAWAII kicking game—including the coverage teams—did not look very good in fall camp. But special teams have done their job for the most part in the first two games. Wazzu averaged 18.6 yards per kickoff return, and got just three yards on one punt return before Wadsworth recovered the fumble at the Cougs' 27. The Warriors capitalized with Leon Wright-Jackson's 2-yard touchdown run and built their first-quarter lead to 21-0.

Three true freshmen figured heavily in the play, the way Wadsworth described it.

“;I was able to get by my guy and just go to the ball,”; he said. “;Luke (Ingram), our long snapper, he got there really fast and I guess the returner got scared and dropped the ball. Alex's (punter Dunnachie) high kicks are hard to catch. It was a group effort.”;

Dunnachie has been inconsistent at best (he averaged 25.7 yards on four punts Saturday), but big things are expected from the powerful Australian's leg when he gets used to the nuances of American football.

Another freshman, Aulola Tonga, is establishing himself on the kickoff and punt return units, special teams coordinator Chris Tormey said.

“;You've got to earn your stripes and show you can play (on special teams),”; Tormey said. “;And we've got some freshmen who can play.”;

Wadsworth is nowhere to be found on UH's two-deep chart. But another Las Vegan, reserve linebacker Joshua Rice, said it's a matter of time for the defensive back who played corner and receiver in high school.

“;He works hard and he plays hard. I'm pretty proud of him, even though he went to Silverado and I went to Coronado,”; Rice said with a laugh. “;We're rivals.”;

AS THEY did in Seattle last week, the UH coaches are scouting the area for future Warriors. Head coach Greg McMackin knows Las Vegas well; he's owned a home here the past six years. Player personnel director Tony Tuioti used to be the defensive coordinator at Silverado and coached Wadsworth. The Warriors had hoped to also bring in defensive end Keenan Graham, considered by many the best defensive player in Nevada last year. But he went to UCLA.

Playing a continuous home-and-home series with UNLV helps UH's recruiting in this area ripe with players with Hawaii family and ethnic ties. It works the other way, too—the Rebels have several players from Hawaii because of the same reason.

“;We want to get into Vegas,”; McMackin said. “;There are a lot of players here. It's a good opportunity.”;

With one like Mike Wadsworth already contributing as a freshman and considering the program's connections here, the Warriors already have a foundation on the ninth island on which to build.