Defense shines in
Warrior 11-on-11

A rebuilding squad finds
success in a UH spring

OK, let's make sure we've got this right -- is it really the Hawaii defense that must replace nine starters, while the offense has nearly everybody coming back?

Yesterday's 11-on-11 session of hard-touch at the UH grass practice field made it seem the other way around. The defense dominated most of a 20-play semi-scrimmage in which the players wore shorts, helmets and shoulder pads.

The maxim of the defense being ahead of the offense early in camp was never more true. It is also important to remember who didn't participate: quarterback Tim Chang, running backs Mike Bass, Mike Brewster and West Keli'ikipi, and receivers Britton Komine, Nate Ilaoa and Chad Owens.

Lineman Kahai LaCount wasn't with the offense, either. He has moved to defensive tackle, and he put on a show yesterday with three sacks. The former blocker looked right at home bearing down hard on the quarterbacks.

"It's different now, trying to tackle them instead of block for them," the third-year sophomore said. "It's fun."

Coach June Jones was impressed with LaCount's debut on the other side of the line.

"He's already making some impact. He's strong, powerful, athletic ... which we knew," Jones said of the 6-foot-3, 308-pounder. "It looks like he will help us there."

Excitement abounded over the performances of LaCount, walk-on safety Patrick Jenkins (fumble return for touchdown) and senior linebacker Chad Kapanui (forced fumble).

But it was tempered by the loss of one of the stars of the spring, sophomore cornerback Kenny Patton. He pulled the hamstring muscle that kept him out of action last season. Patton had all but locked down a starting spot in the secondary.

"It's the same thing as last year. All we can do is make sure he stays off it and hopefully he'll be ready in the fall," defensive backs coach Rich Miano said. "This means Ray Bass and Omega Hogan will get more action the rest of the spring."

Jones said nothing has been settled at quarterback, where Kainoa Akina, Jeff Rhode, Jack Rolovich and Ryan Stickler continue to battle for the right to take on three incoming freshmen to be Chang's No. 2. Long throws were rare yesterday, but Akina and Rolovich completed some nice short and medium passes.

On the receiving end, walk-on freshman slot Patrick Olchovy caught one over the middle and immediately took a welcome-to-the-team whack from linebacker Ikaika Curnan. Instead of limping to the airport for the next flight home to Islip, N.Y., the speedy 5-foot-8, 160-pound Olchovy caught two more short passes and turned them into long-gainers.

"I wanted to come out here because we ran the run-and-shoot back home," Olchovy said. "I think I could've done a little better, but it's just fun to be out here playing."

Another long shot at slot, 5-6, 174-pound junior Cheyne Todani, caught a rare streak pattern from Akina and took it to the imaginary end zone. He held the ball out over his head with one hand the last few paces, a move he acknowledges might earn him special attention from Curnan and Co. next scrimmage.

"I know, but I wanted to get things a little exciting, have some fun. I was a little nervous at first today," said Todani, a former Leilehua quarterback who transferred from Southern Idaho, where he played baseball.

"I hurt my shoulder, so I came home," Todani said. "I didn't want to waste away my college years, so I decided to give football a try. We played the same offense at Leilehua, but it's a little different perspective from receiver."

Jones wasn't bothered that the biggest offensive plays were turned in by whodaguy walk-ons, or that the offensive line was porous.

"The new guys aren't quite sure who to block. Sometimes that affects how they block," he said. "Physically Marques (Kaonohi, who has moved from center to guard) has done good in his opportunity, and (center) Michael Lafaele. But when we turned it up his confidence wasn't quite there. I thought (tackle) Jeremy Inferrera looked pretty decent."

The team has benefited by technique instruction from guest coach Frank Gansz, Jones said.

"I was impressed with the defense, the stuff Frank's been working on, positioning and tackling, just being in position to make plays. We look much sharper," he said.

Receiver Jason Rivers has apparently been paying attention to Gansz. He caught cornerback Lamar Broadway unaware and knocked him down with a solid "strike," as Gansz likes to call good blocking and tackling.

Defensive end Tony Akpan is an apt pupil, in the weight and meeting rooms, too. He's up to 270 pounds on his 6-foot-7 frame and is learning how to play against the run.

"I watched a lot of tapes and lifted a lot of weights," said Akpan, who had never played football until a year ago. "I'm getting used to reading the runs. With more reps, you can read more. You see it and you know what they're going to do. They can't punch me off the line like last year."

More players coming: Saint Louis kicker/punter C.J. Santiago and Damien offensive lineman Keoni Steinhoff are among the incoming freshmen who will be invited to walk on at UH in the fall.

Santiago is a two-time first-team Star-Bulletin all-stater.


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