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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, January 31, 2002

Warriors count their blessings

 •  ESPN contract runs through '07

By Stephen Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer

WAILUKU, Maui — Close your eyes.

Hawai'i players Nate Jackson, Robert Grant and Craig Stutzmann listen intently as Aina head coach Bob Stoops goes over a few players.

Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

Of our eight guests, three paid their way through the first two years of college, one did not start for his college team and another did not start in high school, one dropped out of a military academy, and two received only one college offer apiece.

What's their line?

OK, time's up. The answer is: Hula Bowl Maui football players from the University of Hawai'i.

"It's kind of overwhelming to be here," defensive end Joe Correia said. "It's kind of intimidating, actually. But I'm here, and I'm very happy."

If asked, four years ago, how many UH players would compete in the 2002 Hula Bowl, "I don't think you would have guessed more than one," receiver Craig Stutzmann said. "It just goes to show you the importance of hard work and great coaching."

There are eight versions of the Cinderella story.

Correia, a quarterback at St. Louis School, retired from professional baseball after suffering a shoulder injury. He enrolled at UH as a walk-on in 1998 and, despite several injuries, developed into a quality defensive end.

Hula Bowl Maui
 •  What: All-Star Football Classic
 •  When: Saturday, 3 p.m
 •  Where: War Memorial Stadium
 •  Tickets: $30 and $25. Available to charge by phone (808) 871-4141 or at Maui Mall.
 •  Parking: $3
In high school in California, Robert Grant was a backup running back, a position he played until moving to safety last spring. Grant was an honor student in an accelerated course on defense, and last season emerged as one of the Warriors' top playmakers. He will play linebacker in the Hula Bowl.

Nate Jackson, who weighed 155 pounds as a freshman, and Jacob Espiau, who suffered a serious leg injury as a sophomore, entered UH as non-scholarship players. Both safeties have been named to Western Athletic Conference all-star teams.

Mike Iosua, who transferred from a military academy four years ago, overcame shoulder and knee injuries this season and was named the Warriors' most inspirational player. Stutzmann, who received only one college offer as a St. Louis School senior, and offensive guard Manly Kanoa III, who used to resemble the "before" picture in a SlimFast ad, became team leaders.

Nick Rolovich, who replaced injured quarterback Tim Chang, was 8-1 as a starter. Discount the game in which he was used for one play, Rolovich would have led the nation in total offense in 2001.

To be in the Hula Bowl, Rolovich said, "it's pretty unreal. I've been lucky."

This week, the eight former Warriors have blended easily with Hula Bowl teammates and coaches during drills and community activities. Rolovich asked for pointers from Steve Spurrier, the incoming Washington Redskins head coach.

"It's a good experience to be here," Iosua said. "Since we didn't qualify for a bowl game, this is a chance to play one more game with some of my teammates."

Kanoa played in the East-West Shrine game two weeks ago, but said the Hula Bowl is more meaningful. "I was all by myself at the East-West game," he said. "To come out here, with seven guys from my team and other guys from Hawai'i, is pretty unbelievable."

Said Grant: "We're just having fun, kicking back. You see a lot of people you've seen over the years on TV. To see them in person is a different experience."

Of the UH players in the Hula Bowl, it is widely believed that Rolovich, who has drawn praise from Spurrier, and Kanoa have the best chances for pro careers. The others might earn invitations to NFL free-agent camps.

Jackson said he will return to the UH baseball team next year if a pro opportunity does not work out. For now, he is enjoying his version of "Ferris Bueller's Week Off."

"I get a break from school and get to spend the whole week with nothing but football," Jackson said. "This is fun."