Funaki jacked up about tackling


POSTED: Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Having spent most of his football life evading tacklers, Inoke Funaki found satisfaction in running down a ballcarrier.

An elusive quarterback until this season, Funaki's new role on Hawaii's special teams unit offers him a shot at delivering hits. So when he wrapped up a Navy kick returner for a short gain last weekend, Funaki reveled in the turnabout.

“;That was my first tackle since either Pop Warner or since I tackled my older brothers in the living room,”; Funaki said. “;That was a rush. I was super excited, especially because it was a solo tackle. I told those guys, 'Now I know how it feels, now I know why you get so jacked up.'

“;I got me one.”;

The reversal comes as Funaki approaches the end of a five-year college career, some seven years after taking his final high school snap.

Funaki is one of three members of Kahuku's Class of 2002—joining running back Kimo Alo and defensive tackle Tuika Tufaga—slated to participate in Saturday's senior night festivities following the Warriors' regular-season finale against Wisconsin at Aloha Stadium.





        Who: Wisconsin (8-3) at Hawaii (6-6)

        Where: Aloha Stadium

        When: 6:30 p.m. Saturday

        TV: ESPN2

        Radio: KKEA, 1420-AM


Beat the Badgers (8-3) and the Warriors' seniors will close their careers by facing former coach June Jones and SMU in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl on Christmas Eve. Lose and the annual senior walk will mark the last time they stride onto the field as UH players.

Following his two-year LDS mission in the Dominican Republic, Funaki spent the first three years learning the run-and-shoot under Jones and started six games at quarterback last season. During his run, he piloted the Warriors to the program's lone road win over a ranked opponent with a victory at Fresno State.

A move to running back last spring has resulted in a limited role in the offense this season. In his appearances as a “;wildcat”; quarterback, he's gained 18 yards on seven carries and scored a touchdown at Idaho.

With fellow senior Leon Wright-Jackson and junior Alex Green carrying the rushing load, most of his playing time comes on the coverage units and as the holder on PATs and field goals. But he isn't one to sulk over his diminished minutes.

“;My parents always told me every role is important,”; said Funaki, the youngest of three brothers to start at quarterback for Kahuku. “;Some roles are bigger than others, but everybody needs to do their part in order for it to work.”;

So rather than fume over adjusting to a position change in his senior year, he views this season as a chance to learn other aspects of the game while watching sophomore quarterbacks Bryant Moniz and Shane Austin guide the offense following Greg Alexander's season-ending knee injury.

“;I think it's more beneficial for the team because they are the future,”; Funaki said. “;I'm excited for them. I think they have a lot ahead of them.”;

So do several of the Kahuku grads who followed him to Manoa, a line stretching from Funaki, Alo and Tufaga to true freshmen Kamalani Alo and Aulola Tonga.

“;We went to church together and I knew (Tonga) when he was up to my knee and now I'm up to his neck,”; Funaki said of the 6-foot-3 safety. “;It's crazy.”;

Funaki completed his undergraduate work last year, and this week's ramp up to senior night naturally leads to reflection. Soon enough, it'll be time to turn his focus forward beyond football.

“;I'm just trying to savor it,”; said Funaki, who might consider coaching down the road. “;You can't stop the inevitable, but you try to savor it and cherish the last moments.”;

Looking ahead

Laupepa Letuli won't participate in Saturday night's ceremony in hopes of having his opportunity a year from now.

Letuli started the first three games of the season at right tackle, but hasn't played since injuring his knee prior to the Warriors' trip to Louisiana Tech. He plans to petition for another year of eligibility to extend an injury-plagued career.

He entered the program with starting linemen John Estes, Raphael Ieru and Aaron Kia as members of UH's 2005 recruiting class.

“;It's tough not being able to participate with the senior group I came in with,”; said Letuli, who is gathering the paperwork for his appeal. “;I just wish I could have been part of that, too.”;

Receiver Rodney Bradley is also focused on next season.

Bradley's season ended at Idaho on Oct. 17 when he suffered a broken leg. He began walking without crutches last week and expects to begin rehabbing soon with a goal of being back up to speed for fall camp.

“;I'm going to be busting my tail all offseason, so my senior year I can be 100 percent and be able to dominate,”; Bradley said.

Senior linebacker Brashton Satele, who had season-ending shoulder surgery in August, is also hoping to get another year.

DB commits to UH

The Warriors credited the biggest crowd of the season for impacting last week's win over Navy. The din filling Aloha Stadium also played a part in Travaun Nixon's decision to commit to UH over the weekend.

“;I loved it, the whole atmosphere was great. I'd love to play in a stadium like that,”; Nixon said.

Nixon, a 6-foot, 180-pound defensive back from Ventura (Calif.) College, orally committed following his recruiting visit and is looking to enroll for the spring semester. He led Ventura with six interceptions this season.

“;(Hawaii) seemed like it was a big family and I wanted to be a part of that,”; Nixon said.

Short yardage

With the 6:30 p.m. kickoff on Saturday, Aloha Stadium's Lower Halawa lot will open at 1 p.m. All other parking lots open at 2. Turnstile gates open at 5.