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H A W A I I _ S P O R T S


Wednesday, August 16, 2000



Welcome to college ball

Freshman quarterback Timmy Chang dropped back in the pocket, looked to his right and zeroed in on his wide receiver slipping into the flat.

As soon as the former St. Louis School standout released the football, he knew he was in trouble. That's because freshman walk-on cornerback Gary Wright read the route perfectly.

The Kalaheo High School product stepped in front of the intended receiver, picked off the Chang pass and headed toward the end zone untouched for a touchdown.

It prompted junior safety Jacob Espiau to shout out, "OIA" as he patted Wright on the back for the well-timed play. It was just one of many for Wright, who is vying for the fourth cornerback spot.

Granted, it was just one day of practice, but the 5-foot-9, 174-pounder could prove to be the real deal as the season progresses.

UH secondary coach Rich Miano believes he has found three cornerbacks in starters Shawndel Tucker and Feiamma Armstrong, and backup Hyrum Peters. But the fourth? Well, that's still open for debate.

"Gary lined up as the fourth corner as we came into fall camp," Miano said. "But really, uncertainty is still surrounding him. Can he tackle? Can he concentrate? Will he focus?

"He has all the physical tools and he had a great practice today. He has to continue to progress before he solidifies that job as the fourth best cornerback on the squad.

"He can't have one good day and then get burned for two touchdowns. I told him he did well this morning, but we've got to have that from him every day."

At this point, defensive coordinator Kevin Lempa believes the Warriors are deep in the front seven and the safeties, but still weak at corner.

"That position concerns us," Lempa said. "If we lose Flex (Armstrong) or Shawndel, then we get pretty thin back there in a hurry."

Putting on the pads

The Warriors will put on the pads tomorrow morning for the first time, just don't expect too much heavy hitting the remainder of fall camp.

Much like last year, Hawaii head coach June Jones will limit full contact to only one scrimmage. The date and time for that session has yet to be determined.

"We have a couple of dates in mind," Jones said. "We just haven't settled on one just yet. We're going to take the same approach as last year. We don't want to lose anybody for the season in practice."

At this stage, the defense seems better settled than the offense. Lempa has 22 players in place that he can mix and match during the days of full pads.

"We're going to start matching our top units against the offense's top units," Lempa said. "That way, our guys have a better feel for a full-on session rather than just working against the scout team all the time."

Offensively, Jones is still looking at a variety of receivers, quarterbacks and offensive linemen. With only five starters returning -- including one up front -- Hawaii still has a long way to go before the offense is set.

"We're farther along than we were last year at this time," Jones said. "But we still have a lot of work to do over the next couple of weeks before we're ready to play a game."

McKnight jokes around

Special team coach Dennis McKnight seemed serious when he said yesterday that he planned to play for the Los Angeles franchise in the new Xtreme Football League.

"I've worked all summer getting into shape," McKnight said. "I know the owner, who tried to get me to be a professional wrestler, and I know I could be a deep-snapper if they wanted me to."

When told of McKnight's plans to join the XFL in January, Jones stopped a minute, then laughed.

"There's no way that's going to happen," Jones said. "He's pulling your leg."

After practice, McKnight was asked again about his XFL plans and once again said he was leaving in January to pursue his professional dream.

"Who said I can't?" McKnight challenged.

Coach Jones.

"Oh," McKnight said, then smiled. "Well, I could if I wanted to, but if Coach Jones said no, well ..."

By Paul Arnett, Star-Bulletin

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