By Ferd Lewis
Advertiser Staff Writer
Is it too late to seal the airports?
Is there still time to blockade the harbors? Here it is a little more than a week before college footballs letter of intent day and one of Hawaiis most valuable sports resources, its football talent, is being shipped out.
Of the 12 high school seniors who have so far made verbal commitments, eight have announced plans to leave the state to pursue their careers.
While not all of them had been offered Hawaii scholarships, enough of them were that Brigham Young, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin all staking their claims here in advance of the Feb. 7 signing date is a concern.
A couple of years ago those kinds of numbers for the University of Hawaii would have been seen as major progress. Back then such was the talent drain that UH recruiters high-fived when they managed to keep somebody at home.
But the first two recruiting campaigns of head coach June Jones reign changed that, raising the bar on recruiting expectations. Hitting the ground running soon after they took over, the new staff made quick progress two years ago. Last year UH ran the table on local blue chips with a first-ever 10-for-10.
Of course, UH had a 9-4 record and the emotional high from a rousing Oahu Bowl victory over Oregon State to sell, too.
But coming off the 3-9 finish of this past season, the Warriors have had their work cut out for them while their competition has come in renewed waves.
Wisconsin, which hadnt recruited in Hawaii in nearly 15 years, used its season-ending game here as an opportunity to get a foot back in the door. The Badgers had a handful of local players make recruiting visits and have so far secured a commitment from offensive lineman Donovan Raiola of Kamehameha Schools.
Washington, which hadnt been much of a factor here since Olin Kreutz in 1995, parlayed its Rose Bowl triumph into two recruits, Iolanis William Kava and St. Louis Joseph Lobendahn.
The scary thing, however, is that Brigham Young and Utah have bounced back as recruiting threats without their local point men. With Norm Chow no longer at BYU and Tommy Lee having left Utah, two of those schools figured to suffer this year. But, with four recruits already accounted for, that hasnt happened.
The Warriors have balanced some of their losses locally with successes on the Mainland. Witness the commitment by Nate Ilaoa, a highly coveted wide receiver who was the Washington Post Metro Area Offensive Player of the Year.
But the backbone of whatever success the Warriors have had has usually been in recruiting in their back yard. Win there, history tells us, and they stand their best chance on the field, too.
Ferd Lewis has been reporting on Hawaii sports since 1973.
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