getting stronger

The offense and defense each pick up
a player for the season's third game

Mario Cox and John Fonoti had to wait a while just to practice with the Hawaii football team. They may not have to wait much longer to contribute on game days as well.

Cox and Fonoti were recently granted academic clearance to join the Warriors, and UH coach June Jones said the true freshmen won't redshirt this season.

Fonoti was cleared about two weeks ago and has already gotten a taste of Division I competition. The 6-foot-3, 237-pound outside linebacker made enough of an impression in his limited practice time to earn a roster spot for last week's road trip to Michigan State. He played on special teams and recorded a tackle in his college debut.

"I was just shocked," Fonoti said of being told to pack his bags for the trip. "It was amazing, it was one of the best feelings I've ever had being there."

Cox, a 5-11, 231-pound running back, started practicing with the team last week and the coaches are using the Warriors' bye week to work him into the one-back system.

"He's a talent," running backs coach Mouse Davis said. "He's got the right size and he's a fast kid. We haven't had him in a game, so you never know, but I think he'll be a good addition.

"Just off his high school tape he looks like the real deal. We ran him a little 9-on-7 last week and he looked pretty good. You just try to get him up to snuff and hopefully he'll be a guy who will help us and give us a better group of running backs."

Fonoti and Cox signed with UH last spring, but weren't allowed to practice with the team while their academic situations were reviewed by the NCAA clearinghouse.

While they awaited their clearance, Fonoti and Cox were left to lift weights and run on their own while the rest of the team went through training camp and preparations for its early-season contests.

"I was just focusing on working harder and to be prepared for whatever was coming my way," Fonoti said. "I just thank God and Coach Jones for giving me the chance."

Fonoti had his senior season at Farrington shortened by a broken fibula last year. He was expected to be out for six weeks, but got the cast off in time for the Governors' playoff game four weeks after suffering the injury.

He thought he would redshirt this season due to his late arrival to the team, and he still wears a scout-team jersey in practice. But his physical gifts were tough for the coaches to ignore as they studied tape of practice.

"He's got a lot of athleticism and speed and seems to turn it up in contact," Jones said. "He has some good instincts and he's a big kid who can run."

Cox, a heralded two-way athlete at McClymonds High School in Oakland, Calif., was the last UH player to be cleared despite having passed his academic requirements in high school. Cox said the delay was due to a core credit that didn't appear on his transcript. The matter was cleared up when the high school sent a letter to the NCAA clearinghouse.

"I've been here since summertime, so it was a long wait," Cox said.

"I was wondering what was going on because I never had bad grades. It was just a process."

Cox rushed for 1,225 yards and 25 touchdowns as a senior, and was an all-league linebacker. He said he spent the summer preparing to play defense at UH, but moved to offense when Jones asked him to play running back. His addition would provide greater depth for a group led by Bryan Maneafaiga, David Farmer and Nate Ilaoa.

"I feel like I'm up to speed mentally, but now I just have to get the game pace because I haven't played D-I football," he said. "I just have to get the pace of college football."

Road to recovery: Freshman defensive tackle Keala Watson took a step toward returning to action by practicing in pads for the first time in close to a year yesterday.

"There's a couple of mistakes I made today, but I'm on my way to getting back," Watson said. "It was my first time in about a year, but I'm slowly getting used to it."

Watson played in two games last year and was granted a medical hardship by the NCAA after being sidelined due to a blood disorder similar to hemophilia. He was later cleared to return to football, but his recovery from wrist surgery and a shoulder injury limited his participation to watching his fellow linemen practice.

"I missed it a lot," he said. "Every morning I wake up thinking I'm supposed to be on the field making plays, but I'm on the side getting rehab, getting iced down. Every day that went by just got me more anxious, more hungry to come back."

Jones doubts Watson will be ready to play next week against Idaho and is taking a wait-and-see approach in determining when the 6-3, 325-pound freshman might be ready to contribute.

"He's kind of one-armed with his wrist, but he has a cast on, hopefully he can play some," Jones said. "We'll see over the next couple of weeks."

Welcome back: Jones was back at practice yesterday after spending some time on the mainland following Saturday's game at Michigan State.

Linebacker Tanuvasa Moe and defensive end Ikaika Alama-Francis returned while other starters, including Colt Brennan, Kenny Patton, Brad Kalilimoku and Dane Uperesa, continue to recuperate.

"We've got some injuries, that's for sure," Jones said. "Every year you're going to have some, but hopefully we'll be healthy for the game."

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