Jones says lack of punts shouldn't hurt senior's chances at NFL
By Stephen Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer
University of Hawai'i football player Mat McBriar has an identity crisis.
Despite having the best punting average (44.4 yards) among Western Athletic Conference players, McBriar's name does not appear in the league's weekly statistics. He also was snubbed as a semifinalist for the Ray Guy Award as the nation's best punter.
That's because McBriar is a victim of the Warriors' success. In nine games, McBriar has punted 26 times, an average of 2.9 per game. The NCAA sets the minimum at 3.6 attempts per game. Rice's Travis Hale, who averages 41.0 yards per punt, is listed as the WAC's leader.
"Those things are overrated," UH coach June Jones said of statistical rankings. "I know (McBriar is) getting recognition in the pro ranks, so that's all that matters to him. ... The pros are going to draft the best players, and they know who they are."
When asked if McBriar, a senior, has the potential to play in the National Football League, Jones said, "most definitely."
McBriar said he prefers not to meet the NCAA minimum.
"The more punts I get, generally, the worse we're doing," McBriar said. "I don't mind if I only have to punt two or three times a game. That's fine by me."
Instead, McBriar is focusing on his recent road problems. In each of UH's last two road games, a McBriar punt was blocked, leading to a touchdown. The Warriors travel to Houston to play Rice Saturday.
"I feel like I'm in a little bit of a slump," he said. "I'm trying to work back into it."
The UH goal is a maximum time of 2.1 seconds from snap to punt. In UH's last game against San Jose State, McBriar tried to hurry his punts a strategy that backfired when the Spartans were able to effectively set up the blocking wedge on returns.
Against Rice, McBriar said, he will try to shorten his swing. He usually takes left-right-left jab steps before booming a right-footed punt. "I'm trying to cut down," he said.
He said he probably will embrace the grip-and-rip technique. "I think I've thought about (the blocks) too much," he said. "It's a little like golf. You have to go out there with a clear mind. That's the best way to punt a football."
Houston, we have a problem: UH quarterback Tim Chang often thinks about the first time he played at Rice. In his fourth career start, as a freshman in 2000, he set a UH single-game record ... for most interceptions (five).
In last year's game against Rice, he suffered a season-ending injury to his right wrist when he landed awkwardly.
"I've had a lot of bad luck against them," said Chang, a third-year sophomore. "I'm a little eager to play them. I'm probably the most eager person on the team."
Since the meeting in 2000, Chang said, he has "picked up the speed of the college game" and feels more comfortable in UH's run-and-shoot offense. "I see a lot more things," he said. "I'm a little more mature, a little more experienced."
Eschewing the fat: Since the start of training camp, center Lui Fuata's weight has dropped from 323 pounds to 292.
"Basically, I stopped eating rice," Fuata said. "That's all I had to do."
Fuata said he used to eat two scoops of rice with his breakfast and three or four scoops with his dinner.
As for preparing for this week's game, Fuata said, "the only rice I'm thinking about is Rice University. That's my diet for the week."