RICHARD WALKER / RWALKER@STARBULLETIN.COM
Josh White is one of four Islanders in arenafootball2's top 10 in rushing yardage.
Islanders in a rush
with trio of backs
Competition has been running high among the Hawaiian Islanders running backs since their days as standout ball carriers in high school.
But instead of championships and rushing titles, Vai Notoa, Chris Paogofie and Josh "Zeus" White are now fighting for the carries and playing time with the Islanders.
"It's competitive," White said before a workout in preparation for tonight's game with Bakersfield. "We have to compete with each other and try to get each other better. It's a friendly competitiveness. We competed in high school so it's nothing new. Now we're just on the same team."
Who: Bakersfield Blitz at Hawaiian Islanders
Where: Blaisdell Arena
When: 7:30 p.m. today
The internal competition among the running back trio has boosted the Islanders to the top of arenafootball2's rushing charts.
The Islanders (3-2) lead af2 in rushing offense with 323 rushing yards and rank second in rushing touchdowns with 13. None of the other 26 teams has reached 200 yards on the ground this season.
Paogofie leads the team and is third in the league with 107 yards on 15 carries and six touchdowns. Quarterback Darnell Arceneaux is sixth (81 yards, 2 TDs) and Notoa is seventh (73 yards, 2 TDs). White (62 yards, 3 TDs) moved into ninth place by running for 30 yards and two touchdowns in the Islanders' 36-29 loss at Wichita last week.
"We take great pride in running the ball," White said. "If you can guarantee yourself 3 or 4 yards on the ground in certain situations ... you can put a lot of pressure on the defense."
The Islanders backs graduated from high school programs noted for punishing rushing attacks. Notoa (Kahuku) and White (Farrington) battled for the Oahu Interscholastic Association rushing title in the mid-1990s, while Paogofie was a two-way standout at Waianae.
"All through high school, all through college I've been watching these guys run the ball," Paogofie said. "I never thought I would be playing with these guys, but it's an awesome feeling to have good talent on your side."
The bulk of a running back's role in the pass-oriented arena game is to provide another level of protection for the quarterback, so carries tend to be scarce. The Islanders average 13 running plays per game to 28 pass attempts.
So when they do get their number called, the backs cherish the opportunity.
"I want to run it 50 times and throw it eight times, but this is how they play it," White said. "So we try to take advantage of it and never go down, because we don't know when we're going to get it again."
The tight confines of arena ball leave little room for finesse in running the ball. Which is how the Islanders prefer it.
"It's got to be straight north-and-south running," Notoa said. "The arena's too small to be going east and west, everything is straight ahead.
"The first hit is where it counts, you have to start the game off right. Once you get that first big hit everything starts flowing."
In addition to their talent, the depth the running backs provide has helped the team overcome illness and injuries early in the season.
White missed the San Diego game two weeks ago with an ankle injury, and watched Paogofie and Notoa combine for three rushing scores. He returned last week and turned in a strong performance when Notoa was sidelined with strep throat and Paogofie was nursing a shoulder injury.
"It got me rejuvenated, watching from the sideline," White said. "Being more hungry not playing in the San Diego game, I was really prepared and focused last week."
The Islanders' running back corps should be back at full strength tonight, and Paogofie and Notoa hope to feed off of White's performance last week.
"I wanna do the same thing," Paogofie said. "I don't want to be the guy left out. I want to get that pot of gold too."
Notes: Tonight's game is Military Appreciation Night. Military families with ID receive a $2 discount off admission. Star Market will also distribute 100 tickets to military personnel. ... The Islanders lost to Bakersfield 58-43 in the teams' first meeting on April 19 in California. The Blitz are 1-4 in the National West division. The Islanders are tied with San Diego for second, a game behind Wichita. ... Bakersfield lineman Ricky Leung-Wai is a graduate of Waipahu High School.