Uperesa toughens
up for UH

Hard work and patience have
earned the sophomore a
starting spot on the O-line

Dane Uperesa's introduction to college football two years ago was a rude one. On his first play, Uperesa, a second-year freshman starting at right tackle, was bowled over by a Division I-AA defensive end.

Although he settled down and Hawaii won its season opener 40-17 over Appalachian State, it was determined Uperesa was not quite ready to start on UH's vaunted offensive line the following game, which was at USC.

Uperesa's next start was against the Trojans -- 26 games and two seasons later.

"A lot of thoughts went through my head that freshman year when I wasn't playing," Uperesa, now solidly entrenched as the Warriors' starting right tackle, said yesterday. "It took a lot of confiding in my parents and Coach Cav (former offensive line coach Mike Cavanaugh).

"There was talk of a move to the defensive line. Transferring crossed my mind, but not seriously. After that I realized I'm still young and my career wasn't over. From then on it was a lot of hard work and positive thinking."

Now, not even a severely sprained right ankle can knock him out of the lineup. The 6-foot-5, 312-pound Punahou graduate hurt it against Michigan State on Sept. 10, and even with a bye to rest the joint last week, he was listed as out for Saturday's game at Idaho. He scoffed yesterday at the idea of missing the Western Athletic Conference opener.

"There was no doubt in my mind that I was going to play," said Uperesa, who was on crutches last week. "I knew I would sit out the bye week, so I spent it studying the film. I feel good physically and mentally."

The player who replaced Uperesa at right tackle two years ago is Brandon Eaton. Now Eaton is the starting right guard so Uperesa could move back into the lineup. Want to know about a man's character? Ask his neighbor.

"He has stepped it up a lot. He really wanted to contribute this year so he made some changes in attitude," Eaton said. "He was super nice. Now he's changed a little bit. He can get mad now. Before you couldn't pay him to get mad. He still has his nice guy thing. But now he has the ability to get mad and play hard."

Coach June Jones has always expected big things from Uperesa, the son and nephew of former local standouts Kevin and Keith Uperesa.

"He fought through (the ankle) in the game, he fought through it last week, and he fought through it the last couple days. Ankles are different for different people. He's toughing it out," Jones said. "He's matured. He's stronger, bigger, more physical. He worked hard in the weight room in the summer. That helps your confidence and toughness."

Uperesa won't allow anyone to use playing away from Aloha Stadium as an excuse to lose as the Warriors seek their first road win Saturday after six defeats going back to 2003.

"Frankly, I'm tired of it. I don't see why the road should be so difficult," he said. "The road is the road. Yeah, it's us against the world, but we should be able to execute the same as at home."

He is confident in the ability of UH's young quarterbacks, receivers and backs to perform away from the islands.

"I like that Tyler (Graunke) and Colt (Brennan) seem to be fine with it," Uperesa said. "It's great that we've got fresh guys in there. What I've seen so far is an attitude of no fear."

As for himself, Uperesa laughs at the suggestion that he's evolved into a tough guy.

"Maybe not tougher, I think more confident in what I can do," he said. "I know what people expect of me and I expect that of myself now. I've been playing a while now against some of the best competition UH has ever gone against. I got a lot of experience last year toward the end of the year. It's about getting confidence."

Short yardage: Sophomore Michael Lafaele took a lot of reps at nose tackle yesterday, as No. 1 on the depth chart Keala Watson was not in full pads and iced a knee. ... Tony Akpan, who played the first two games at nose, played right end. ... Nate Ilaoa, who rushed for a team-high 76 yards against Michigan State, will move back to slotback against Idaho if freshman Mario Cox is ready to make an impact at running back. ... The cornerback situation of Kenny Patton (shoulder), Keao Monteilh, Ryan Keomaka and Turmarian Moreland remained muddled.

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