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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, August 13, 2002

UH trying to avoid collision course

By Ferd Lewis
Advertiser Staff Columnist

With a receiver locked in his sights, linebacker Matt Wright was closing quickly on a play of such collision potential that, had it come on a Saturday night in September, it would have brought an anticipatory hush from an Aloha Stadium crowd.

Instead, on the University of Hawai'i football practice field on this August morning, there were warning cries of "watch it!" from coaches.

And, not just because so-called "full contact" drills aren't permissible under NCAA rules until tomorrow.

As the Warriors prepare for their longest, most concentrated season — 13 regular season games in 15 weeks — there is a renewed commitment to keeping the team on the field and off the injured list.

When coach June Jones arrived in Manoa in 1998, he brought an NFL approach to a lot of areas, but none more than to keeping his team healthy. The Warriors practice hard, but they also practice smart, leaving most of the tackling and the hardest hits for their games.

The Warriors probably engage in fewer full contact sessions than any team in the country, and while it might have contributed to some slow starts, it has undoubtedly allowed them to finish strong, too.

The wisdom of that policy is gaining favor in Division I-A, especially this year as schedules expand to take on more of an NFL appearance. New NCAA rules permit an added game in years with an "extra Saturday" between late August and the end of November as is the case in 2002, '03, '08, '13, '14, etc.

That means most teams will play 12 games this year and some, such as Nebraska, could play 14 or 15 before bowls thanks to kickoff events and league playoffs.

With the scholarship limit unchanged at 85, keeping players on the field and off crutches takes on added importance. Especially for the Warriors who, between an Aug. 31 opening and Dec. 7 regular-season conclusion, have but two open dates.

"With that added 13th game how much sense does it make to get somebody hurt in practice?" Jones said. "Maybe if you are Oklahoma or Texas and have a million guys. But not us. Besides, so much of what we do on offense is mental that if we're knocking the (stuffing) out of guys while they are thinking, they won't know what they're doing."

Wright said: "We practice like a pro team and you really feel the difference when you get to the seventh, eighth and ninth games of the season. You get the mental (repetitions) but it really helps save your body. When (Fred) vonAppen was the coach and he used to make us go live every single day. After a while that takes its toll."

With their most arduous season staring them in the face mask, if the Warriors want to have a December to remember, it behooves them to practice self-preservation in August.