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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, August 25, 2002

Assignments set for Saturday's opener

By Stephen Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer

The University of Hawai'i football team yesterday completed two weeks of training camp with a clear self-assessment as it prepares for Saturday's season opener against Eastern Illinois.

Here's a look:

• Offense: Tim Chang's broken pinkie enabled Jason Whieldon, Shawn Withy-Allen and Ryan Stickler to take well-needed turns at quarterback. Although Chang is expected to start Saturday, Whieldon has developed into a dependable leader. The hope is that the Warriors will not need to use Stickler, a freshman who would prefer to redshirt this season.

The Warriors have adequately replaced the three departed starting receivers, with slotback Chad Owens showing the most promise in training camp. Even if Nate Ilaoa were healthy, Clifton Herbert still would have won the job at the other slotback position.

Line coach Mike Cavanaugh said the starting blockers — left tackle Wayne Hunter, left guard Shayne Kajioka, center Lui Fuata, right guard Vince Manuwai and right tackle Uriah Moenoa — are "the most athletic we've ever had, but that doesn't mean anything. It comes down to executing your technique and assignments."

Cavanaugh said the line is struggling with cohesiveness. Hunter was a defensive lineman last year, and Fuata played left tackle last season and left guard in spring practice. Kajioka has missed four days of practice with a concussion.

Thero Mitchell's blocking ability, and improved quickness, enabled him to win the starting job at running back.

• Defense: Injuries and eligibility problems have depleted the line. Isaac Sopoaga, who has a sprained left big toe, is the only backup to defensive tackles Lui Fuga and Lance Samuseva. Sopoaga had 31 sacks in junior college two years ago.

Kevin Jackson seized the starting job from right end Travis Laboy, who is recovering from wrist surgery and injuries to his hamstring and big toe. Laboy is the team's best pass-rusher, but he missed the Warriors' final 14 practices.

The secondary has undergone extensive remodeling. Injuries to safeties Leonard Peters and Matt Manuma led to Hyrum Peters' move from cornerback to strong safety. With Hyrum Peters now listed at the starter there, Kelvin Millhouse will start at cornerback, and Keith Bhonapha becomes the fifth defensive back in the nickel defense. In the "Okie" defense, which employs six defensive backs, Gary Wright moves into the lineup.

Bhonapha — pronounced Bo-na-fa, if you're enunciating at home — is a fifth-year senior who made a name for himself with intense workouts. "Instead of riding along," he said, "I wanted to be a driver."

Wright, a fourth-year junior, slipped on the depth chart since entering the 2001 spring practice as a starting cornerback. The "dime back" is a combination of cornerback, safety and linebacker.

"Everybody goes through trials," Wright said. "Some endure them and come back on top. The main thing, for me, was to keep the faith and be strong. ... I'm getting another chance, and I love it. I'm having fun out there."