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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, September 7, 2004

Warriors' Alama-Francis hopes to practice soon

By Stephen Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer

The University of Hawai'i football team is expected to receive a boost with the early return of defensive end Ikaika Alama-Francis.

Alama-Francis, a 6-foot-7 converted basketball player, has not competed in contact drills since undergoing back surgery in July.

He was expected to return next Monday. But UH coach June Jones said Alama-Francis is seeking medical clearance to participate in this week's practices. With a bye this weekend, Alama-Francis might be available for the Sept. 18 game against Rice at Houston.

"We've got to get him back on the field," said Vantz Singletary, who coaches the defensive linemen. "He's (former Warrior) Travis LaBoy in so many ways — in slipping blocks and making plays in the backfield. He has another burst. The thing about playing defensive line is you need instincts, and he has a lot of that."

Alama-Francis, an All-State player in volleyball and basketball at Kalaheo High, did not play football until moving from the UH basketball team in the spring of 2003. His father, Joe Francis, played in the National Football League.

Alama-Francis might replace basketball teammate Nkeruwem "Tony" Akpan, a defensive end who still needs to serve a one-game suspension for his role in an on-field scuffle following the Sheraton Hawai'i Bowl last December. Akpan's inexperience as a run defender might not be suitable against Rice's complex triple-option running attack.

Asked if Akpan would serve his suspension against Rice, Jones said, "We haven't decided yet, but that was my initial thought. We'll see how everybody is when we get in pads this week. I don't have to make a decision until a week from this Wednesday (when the Warriors depart for Houston)."

The Warriors rotated eight players in the four spots on their defensive line. Three defenders who were used extensively during preseason training — end Karl Noa, left tackle Kahai LaCount and right tackle Darrell Tautofi — did not play in Saturday's 35-28 loss to Florida Atlantic.

Singletary said Noa was "sporadic" during the training camp. "He has a lot of ability and he can run," Singletary said. "He will come on. It's a matter of getting more excited about what he's doing."

Keli'ikipi may be ready, but Poumele may not

Jones said running back West Keli'ikipi, who underwent surgery last year to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee, might be available to play in the Rice game.

Keli'ikipi's career was in jeopardy when he was suspended in May after being charged with taking part in a scheme to defraud a medical insurance account. He was reinstated to the team days before the start of training camp.

Jones said he did not know about the availability of right slotback Se'e Poumele, who suffered an injury to his sciatic nerve.

Jones said he expects left slotback Chad Owens to be ready for the Rice game. Owens suffered pain in the back of his right shoulder after he was tackled out of bounds by a Florida Atlantic defensive back.

Kickoff coverage was porous, Jones says

Jones said he was disappointed by the Warriors' kickoff coverage. The Owls averaged 35.2 yards per kickoff return. A 95-yard return was nullified because of a penalty.

"Kickoff coverage was not very good at all," Jones said. "We had some new rookies on there who are learning. We have to get better at that."

Jones added: "I was a little disappointed in some of the veteran guys. We didn't get aligned, just basic alignment we do every day. When the lights come on, they don't do it. The most basic routes we've run 8,000 times. The lights come on, they don't do the right thing. Those little things affect the overall. ... We complete some things when (receivers) do their own thing, but if they do the right thing, they're touchdowns."

Jones also singled out the connection problems between quarterback Tim Chang and left wideout Jason Rivers. Of the 16 passes Chang threw to Rivers, six were completed, for 56 yards.

"We threw a lot of balls down the field to (Rivers), and I'm sure he was tired," Jones said. "But, you know, so is everybody else. The DBs chasing him were tired."

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

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