UHdefensive lineman Isaac Sopoaga fought through the block of Marques Kaonohi and Tala Esera during practice Thursday.

Working it out
on their own

The Warriors' summer
football practices are voluntary
and coachless, but they're
still plenty intense

Derek Faavi snaps the ball to Kainoa Akina. Akina reads the receivers and the secondary, going through the quarterback's progression of a typical run-and-shoot pass play. But he quickly runs out of time. Isaac Sopoaga bears down on him from the right. Akina improvises, faking a shovel pass through the big man's legs before he tries to throw it over Sopoaga's outstretched arms to Chad Owens in the flat. "Ice" knocks the ball down.

Akina smiles and shakes his head on the way back to the huddle.

"This is hard," he says.

Welcome to voluntary workouts. No pads and no coaches, but plenty of perspiration.

Fall camp starts Aug. 5, and the Hawaii football season doesn't begin until Aug. 30, when the Warriors host Appalachian State at Aloha Stadium.

These are the days when college football coaches speak only when they are spoken to. If they run into players, they can't initiate conversations and they aren't allowed to instruct them.

It's called a dead period.

But there's lots of live action involving the players. It's just not under the usually watchful eyes of coaches.

Like college players across the nation, the Warriors practice on their own in the summer between the end of spring practice and the start of fall camp. They participate in semi-formal but well-organized voluntary workouts on most afternoons during the week, and most of them spend a good portion of the rest of the time on weights and running.

About 50 UH players, including most of the likely starters, attended a workout Thursday on the grass soccer practice field on lower campus.

Miss Hawaii Teen USA Camille Peraro stopped by the UH campus Thursday to get Chad Owens' autograph for a charity silent auction item before the Warriors' voluntary workout.

The closest thing to a coach in sight is Guy Antti, a fixture at practices who helps by playing catch with quarterbacks and receivers and snapping the ball during passing drills.

"All the guys have looked great," Antti said. "It's hard to pick out any individuals."

Trey Johnson led the Warriors on runs after the workouts before leaving yesterday for Army duty in Iraq. He was also hesitant to pick out individuals who have worked especially hard.

"But it's hard not to not notice how hard Chad Owens goes at it every day. He's tireless, and he's here for every workout," Johnson said. "And the linemen, offense and defense, they've all been very consistent."

Veteran all-conference players and unknown walk-ons shared the field, and the more experienced shared their knowledge.

Last year, fellow defensive tackle Lance Samuseva helped Isaac Sopoaga learn the schemes. Last week, Sopoaga passed on what he knew to neophyte defensive end Tony Akpan between plays.

Sopoaga (6-3, 315) and Akpan (6-7, 250) are incredibly athletic for their size, and both have obviously spent plenty of time sculpting their bodies.

Former UH linebacker Chris Brown, getting ready for camp with the Baltimore Ravens, raves about Akpan, the basketball player who never wore football gear until last spring.

"He's phenomenal," Brown said. "He will be a pro football player."

IT'S NOT QUITE like practice, since the players wear shorts and T-shirts. But they run the same plays from the same playbook that they do when the coaches are around.

There's a lot of laughter and a lot of fun, but there is also a purpose. The players are thinking months ahead, hoping their investment in the summer pays off in the fall.

"This is really important for us," linebacker Keani Alapa said. "It shows how dedicated everyone is. You know, the work in the offseason determines how you do in the season."

Without the coaches around, the workouts also give the veteran players an opportunity to enhance their leadership skills.

"This helps all of us. We've got lots of seniors on defense, and we're all going to be expected to take on leadership roles. We all push each other, too," Alapa said.

Defensive line hopeful Tony Akpan worked with UH alum Chris Brown on Thursday.

Senior defensive end Travis LaBoy said the voluntary workouts are especially important for him since he missed so much practice time due to injuries during his first two years at UH since transferring from Utah State.

"For me personally this is very valuable. I need the reps. I have lots of stuff to work on," LaBoy said. "It's real good for the team to get its rhythm, get us going early and get an early start as a team."

Freshman cornerback Chris Price, a walk-on from Hawaii Prep, hopes the time he puts in now will help him get on the roster in the fall.

"It's huge for me, I get to see everything. The guys help you a lot. They're real cool. They tell you everything and they're real good about getting you as many reps as you need," Price said.

"You get a jump on everyone else who isn't out here."

Catching on: Receivers Rene Melson and Nick Pierson will walk on in the fall, receivers coach Ron Lee said. Melson is a 2000 McKinley High graduate and a junior college transfer. Pierson was an All-Channel League selection last year at St. Bonaventure High School in Ventura County, Calif. ... Junior Britton Komine, who goes into fall camp No. 1 at left wide receiver, returned from Army ROTC camp last week. His father, Howard Komine, said Britton's ankle sprain from a driveway basketball game is totally healed. ... Junior Kanale George joins Mark Tate as receivers whose fall status Lee is unsure of.


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