Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, December 22, 2003

UH football team's starting lineup takes hits

By Stephen Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer

The University of Hawai'i football team is preparing as if four key players — defensive end Travis LaBoy, defensive tackle Isa'ako "Isaac" Sopoaga, slotback Chad Owens and running back West Keli'ikipi — will not be in the starting lineup for Thursday's Sheraton Hawai'i Bowl.

UH running back West Keli'ikipi sat out practice yesterday.

Gregory Yamamoto • The Honolulu Advertiser

"That's the way it goes," UH coach June Jones said after yesterday's two-hour practice at Saint Louis School. "We have to go play. The next guy who will play is good."

Sopoaga and Owens are suffering from flu-like symptoms, and Keli'ikipi has not fully recovered from last month's surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee.

All indications are LaBoy will be academically ineligible for the game. The Western Athletic Conference, of which UH is a member, requires its football players to earn at least six credits — the equivalent of passing two classes — during the semester preceding a bowl game. The NCAA has jurisdiction on the matter, and failure to comply with the WAC rule could lead to NCAA sanctions.

The last day of the UH fall semester was Friday. LaBoy did not attend practices Saturday and yesterday. He told The Advertiser he skipped Saturday's mandatory practice to determine his academic standing from professors.

While final grades can be posted in the UH computer system as early as today, school and team officials received most of the final grades for the players by last Friday. Team officials also met with professors for progress reports.

• Who: University of Houston (7-5) from Conference USA vs. University of Hawai'i (8-5) from the Western Athletic Conference

• When: Thursday

• Kick off: 3 p.m.

• Where: Aloha Stadium

• Tickets: $15, $25, $40, available at www.etickethawaii.com, Aloha Stadium box office, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (808) 484-1122 or (800) 291-3999, and Stan Sheriff Center, UH lower campus, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. (808) 944-2697 (BOWS), phone sales from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.


• Radio: 1420 AM

In three interviews with The Advertiser Saturday, Jones said LaBoy would not play in the Hawai'i Bowl. After yesterday's practice, Jones kept open the slight possibility LaBoy would be available to play if he meets the six-credit rule. A player must be enrolled in courses totaling a minimum of 12 credits each semester to qualify as a full-time student and receive a football scholarship. In short, LaBoy cannot fail more than half of his classes.

"On the 23rd, we'll find out for sure," Jones said. "As of right now, I'm not counting on him."

Jones added if LaBoy is certified to have earned the minimum six credits "he can dress out, and if he gets in the game, he gets in the game. But he won't start."

As of last night, LaBoy was not on the guest list at the Sheraton Moana Surfrider, where the team is staying through Thursday, nor invited to participate in bowl activities.

Defensive coordinator George Lumpkin said Melila Purcell III, a sophomore from American Samoa, will start at right defensive end in place of LaBoy.

"As subs, when somebody goes down, we need to pick it up and step it up," Purcell said. "We want to go in there and win the bowl game."

Purcell said the Warriors will miss LaBoy, who led the WAC with 13 sacks and was named the WAC's Defensive Player of the Year.

"Travis was a big factor to our team," Purcell said. "He was a pass rusher. He was making plays. I'm trying to finish up where he left off."

Jones said Owens, who also is recovering from a sore left foot, and Sopoaga will not start, presumably because of missed practice time. Left wideout Britton Komine will start at left slotback. Lui Fuga is next in line at left defensive tackle.

Lumpkin said he is hopeful the Warriors will overcome not having LaBoy and Sopoaga, also an All-WAC selection, in the starting lineup. Both are seniors.

"Isaac and Travis won't be here next year," Lumpkin said. "If they're not (available), we'll just start like it's next year."

Fuga insisted Sopoaga "is still starting. He's just sick. It's coach Jones' call, but I know as of this moment, if he comes in (to practice), he's starting."

Keli'ikipi attended practice, but he was not in uniform and watched from the bleachers. Keli'ikipi, a junior, said he was being held out to avoid further aggravating his surgically repaired left knee.

Jones said punter Kurt Milne also is suffering from flu-like symptoms. "He'll be all right by Thursday," Jones said.

Reach Stephen Tsai at stsai@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8051.