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Star-Bulletin Sports

Wednesday, September 27, 2000

U H _ F O O T B A L L

UH Football

Tulsa time
for Warriors

Hawaii faces a team with
a new coach on a
winning mission

Warrior Football Notebook

By Paul Arnett

For Keith Burns, Dec. 7 is a date that will live in infamy for an entirely different reason than those residing in Hawaii.

That day in 1999, the University of Tulsa hired the first-year head coach to turn around a football program that has bombed for so long, even the most ardent Golden Hurricane fans have a hard time remembering the last winning season for the beleaguered program.

Burns believes he can change all that and soon. Entering Saturday's Western Athletic Conference meeting at the University of Hawaii, the former Arkansas defensive coordinator already has accomplished something never done before in Tulsa.

Two weeks ago, the Golden Hurricane traveled to Rice University and beat the Owls, 23-16, to win the first WAC opener during the five years Tulsa has been in the league. A victory this weekend would put the Golden Hurricane in such uncharted waters, Burns may have a hard time finding his way home.

"Everything looks a little better when you win," said Burns, whose Tulsa team leveled its season record at 2-2 with a victory over future WAC member Louisiana Tech last weekend.

"I knew we had talent when I took this job. It was just a matter of realizing our potential. We got off to a rough start losing our first two games (to North Carolina and Oklahoma State). "But I saw some good things in those losses that we could build on this season."

Two years ago, Tulsa got off to a 2-2 start before losing its next five games en route to another losing season. The last time Tulsa had a winning campaign was in 1991. That year, the Golden Hurricane finished 10-2, including a victory over San Diego State in the Freedom Bowl.

Tulsa's local boy

Burns isn't ready to predict double-digit victories nearly a decade later, but he does believe Tulsa can be a title contender in 2000. For one, he has an exciting playmaker in quarterback Josh Blankenship.

The sophomore has completed 69 of 142 passes for 922 yards and four touchdowns. They don't put him at the top of the WAC class, but Blankenship's numbers have come against quality competition.

"I know this much," UH head coach June Jones said of Blankenship. "He came in during the second half last year and moved the football all over us."

Like Hawaii quarterback Timmy Chang, Blankenship is Tulsa's version of a local boy making good. He passed over several other offers to stay at home, a decision he doesn't regret.

"Coach Burns has come in and given us a big lift," Blankenship said. "I've always loved Tulsa and wanted to play here since I was in high school. We have a chance in the future to put Tulsa on the map in football like our basketball team did last year."

Burns is a go-getter, who likes that kind of talk. He has a fiery disposition on and off the field that the players responded to in the spring and during fall camp.

The players believe in him, but Burns knows he must convince the community as well. It's a tough sell. For too long, Tulsa struggled, leading to dwindling crowds. But as Burns said, "We can cure a lot of that with winning. If we put an entertaining product on the football field, the fans will come."

During the off-season, Tulsa put a new combination turf-grass field in old Skelly Stadium. It's the kind of facility improvement needed to attract better athletes.

Burns already has a youth movement in place. Some 22 freshmen will travel to Hawaii this weekend, while only 17 seniors are expected to make the trip. Three true freshmen -- cornerback C.J. Scott, linebacker Chad Smith and tight end Jarrod Roach -- are starters, not to mention freshman long snapper Thomas Perrault.

"We're beginning to get our plan in place," Burns said. "But it's going to take some time to get the program moving in the direction I want it to.

"So far, our guys are buying into the offensive and defensive schemes. They managed a big victory on the road and then we came back with a win at home. Going to Hawaii will be a challenge, but at least we're starting to believe in ourselves, and that's a positive first step."

UH Athletics
Ka Leo O Hawaii

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