Kalani Simpson Sidelines

Kalani Simpson

A freshman’s
got Chang’s back

ARE they crazy? Really. Are they? There's a freshman starting at left tackle in Manoa these days. A freshman! In the spot that every John Madden-wannabe knows is the most crucial position in football. On Timmy Chang's blind side.

A freshman.

Here's what we have here. A franchise quarterback, with a history of injury, with three fewer interceptions than touchdowns, and they're giving him a new guy for a bodyguard.

(A freshman!)

This is insanity. This is lunacy. This is madness.


Hold on. One second for rebuttal.

"Have I lied to you about guys yet?" says Hawaii offensive line coach Mike Cavanaugh, "that they are gonna do great?"

Uh, no. And, oh, yes, Coach Cav has that gleam in his eye again. Because this freshman is one Samson Satele, the Kailua steamroller, and this guy is the real deal.

"Now," Cav says, "we're talking about balance, or uncanny balance. Power. Explosion. Nasty. I mean, he's got a lot of good things, so I'm as excited as hell about him."

Excited enough to have the guy batting cleanup as a freshman, facing each team's best pass rusher, protecting Chang's back. Yeah, the guy is good. Great-good. You can see it in seconds, it's clear even to those who don't spend hours in the dark poring over everybody's footwork on the practice video. But this is still momentous.

Has June Jones ever had a freshman in this spot?

"Well, I've only been here four years," the coach says.

Rookies at left tackle, then?

Sure, Jones says. He's put rookies there. Bob Whitfield, for one.

Anybody else?

Jones thinks for a second. Then for a few more. No, just Bob Whitfield.

And Bob Whitfield was a great one.

But this guy ...

"He's real quick," says UH defensive end Kevin Jackson, who goes against Satele in practice. "His confidence is there. He's not afraid."

He remains unruffled by such a mountainous challenge. "Yeah," Satele says quietly, so, so quietly, Clint Eastwood quietly, "I'm ready."

He comes across cool as a cucumber, gentle. A really nice guy who talks about the responsibility of filling Wayne Hunter's shoes.

"On the field is a little bit different," he says. "Cav tells us when you get on the field, pick up your tempo. Be a meaner man. Off the field, be a humble guy."

He's mean?

"He's mean," Cavanaugh says.

"He's got that nastiness. He wants to rip your jugular out."

Start the insanity.

And the thing is, he's not even a natural left tackle, maybe not a tackle at all. Jones thinks Satele might be more of a guard, and Cavanaugh knows it. "He can always move inside," Jones says. But this is where they want him right now -- "gotta be your most athletic guy," Jones says. "He's a real natural pass protector. So we felt like he'd lock in right there."

Cav compares him to Kynan Forney -- a guard, but this is where you play guys when they can play like this.

That's who you want on that left side. That's who you need on that left side.

A freshman. A freshman with the weight of Timmy Chang's health on his shoulders. A promising season may ride on a guy who still looks young, so young.

Jones explains that UH's offense is a little different, with half rolls and passes to both sides and different blocking schemes. The position isn't quite as crucial here as it might be in another system.

Still, this is history.


"I know I'm nuts for starting a left tackle as a freshman," Cav says. And then he gets that gleam in his eye again. And he smiles the smile of a man who doesn't mind being crazy. No, not at all.

See the Columnists section for some past articles.

Kalani Simpson can be reached at


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