Salas, Estes, Soares are All-WAC


POSTED: Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Where one journey ends, another begins.

For four Hawaii football players, yesterday's announcement of their selections to the All-Western Athletic Conference team put a final stamp on the 2009 season.

Now comes the next step.

“;It's already next season,”; said slotback Greg Salas, one of three Warriors named to the All-WAC first team. “;This season is over with now, officially. We just have to start looking forward to next season and start training hard.”;

While Salas can look forward to another season with the Warriors, center John Estes, linebacker Blaze Soares and offensive tackle Aaron Kia closed their UH careers by making the all-conference teams before heading into the next phase of their careers.

Estes retained a spot on the All-WAC first team for the third straight year and was joined by Salas and Soares. Kia was named to the second team.

Estes started every game from the 2006 opener at Alabama to last Saturday's season finale against Wisconsin to set an NCAA record for games played. He was named the Warriors' most valuable player on Sunday and is among six finalists for the Rimington Award, given to the nation's top center.

“;I hurt a lot of times through that, but I really just didn't allow myself to sit out,”; Estes said. “;That's what I'm most proud of ... contributing for 54 straight games.”;

Estes is the fifth UH player to earn first-team All-WAC honors three times, joining Gary Allen, Davone Bess, Jason Elam and Al Noga. He'll graduate with a degree in communications this month before pursuing an NFL career. He's hoping for an invitation to the Senior Bowl and will spend the coming months training for his shot.

“;That's what I'm excited about; now it's just football,”; Estes said.

Soares battled back from an injury that cost him the entire 2008 season to lead the Warriors with 107 tackles this fall.

“;Of all the linebackers I've ever coached, he's as good a hitter as I've ever been around,”; UH head coach Greg McMackin said. “;He's a football player.”;

After enduring the 13-game grind, Soares also plans to take a breather before resuming training.

“;As of right now my chapter at UH is done and it's time to close the books and start a new chapter in my life. Hopefully the NFL is what it is,”; said Soares, dousing any lingering speculation that he might appeal for another year of eligibility.

“;My dream was always to be an NFL player, and the door is cracked right now. I just have to get my foot in the door and try to get there. All I need is the opportunity.”;

A move to slotback triggered Salas' breakout junior season. Salas led the WAC with 106 receptions and 1,590 yards. He had eight games with at least 100 yards, topping out at 196 against New Mexico State. He spent most of the season among the top two in the nation in yardage before finishing fourth.

He pulled his hamstring during last Saturday's game, and once that heals he'll start pushing toward his senior season as the Warriors look to rebound from a 6-7 campaign that ended a run of three straight bowl appearances.

“;I set little individual goals for myself before the season, just something to shoot for, and this was one of them,”; Salas said. “;As far as the team goes, that's the most important thing, but it didn't turn out too well this year, so we have to try harder.”;

Kia, also a senior, started all 13 games at left tackle to earn a spot on the second team. Kia and Estes were part of an offensive line that allowed 36 sacks this season, down from 57 a year ago. UH averaged a sack per 16.8 pass attempts this season, compared with 9.6 last year.

“;I was glad to see Aaron Kia get recognized,”; McMackin said. “;It's tough playing left tackle, and I thought he did a great job of it.”;

Dunnachie gets weekly honor

UH punter Alex Dunnachie was named the WAC special teams player of the week.

Dunnachie, a freshman from Australia, averaged 49.2 yards on his six punts against Wisconsin. After starting with punts of 20 and 38 yards, Dunnachie's next four kicks covered 66, 55, 55 and 61 yards. The 66-yard kick was his longest of the season. Two other punts were downed inside the 20.

The Warriors allowed 8 yards on three punt returns on Saturday and ended the season second in the country in punt coverage. Nine of Dunnachie's 42 punts this season were returned, with UH giving up a total of 15 yards, an average of 1.67. Dunnachie finished the season averaging 39.2 yards per punt.