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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, April 14, 2006

Warrior can catch TD pass in his sleep

By Stephen Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer

Michael Washington

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UH FOOTBALL OHANA FESTIVAL

WHAT: Final spring practice, including regular practice drills, 7-on-7 drills, 60-play scrimmage

WHEN: Tomorrow, 8 to 11 a.m.

WHERE: UH practice fields, next to Rainbow Wahine Softball Stadium

ADMISSION: Free

PROMOTIONS: Games and giveaways on the soccer field with prizes, including tickets to a UH baseball game or the men's volleyball match against BYU that night

AUTOGRAPHS: From 10 to 11 a.m., members of the UH football team will be available for autographs

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Is it any wonder that every night Michael Washington has visions of touchdown catches dancing in his head?

"I sleep with a football," said Washington, a University of Hawai'i receiver. "I have to have the football with me. It's part of my love for the job. I usually sleep with it next to my hip."

When he awakens each morning, the football remains in place.

"I don't like to fumble, even when I'm sleeping," he said, smiling.

This spring training, which concludes tomorrow, Washington has been a pleasant surprise. After playing seven games as a freshman wideout last season, Washington made an easy transition to slotback this spring.

"He's doing a great job," UH coach June Jones said. "He's doing everything we want a slotback to do."

With his quickness he was timed running 40 yards in 4.3 seconds in high school Washington is proving to be too elusive at slotback, where he faces linebackers and strong safeties. During yesterday's scrimmage, he zipped past strong safety Michael Malala for an over-the-shoulder-pad catch and sprinted the rest of the way to complete the 70-yard play.

"When I played the X (left wideout) last year, that was cool," Washington said. "Now that I'm at slot, well, that's just too exciting."

He said his knowledge of the wideout routes helped him develop a comprehensive understanding of the four-wide offense. "I've been doing a lot of studying with (receivers) coach (Ron) Lee, and that's helped me a lot," Washington said.

Washington has received additional work in the absence of Ryan Grice-Mullins, who is recovering from a pulled hamstring. Jones said Washington and Aaron Bain are considered to be the top backups to Grice-Mullins and Davone Bess.

Jones also opened up another what-if possibility for Washington. Running back Nate Ilaoa is petitioning the NCAA for a medical hardship that will allow him to play as a sixth-year senior in 2006. Jones said he is "confident" Ilaoa's request will be granted. If it's not, Jones said, Washington is a candidate to replace Ilaoa as the "speed" running back. In that scenario, most of the work still would go to 298-pound running back Reagan Mauia.

"(Washington) played some running back in high school, and he can play it for us, too," Jones said.

Washington, a graduate of Aliquippa High School near Pittsburgh, said he has conquered bouts of homesickness.

"It doesn't factor anymore," he said. "I've been in a military family. We traveled a lot. I miss my grandparents, because they're the ones who raised me. I'm calling Hawai'i my home. It's very peaceful here."

He said he speaks daily with his girlfriend, who lives in Pennsylvania.

"I'll be on my cell phone, with my earpiece in, and while she's talking, I'm playing catch with the football," he said. "Sometimes it's hard to concentrate."

CUT DAY APPROACHING

Jones said the most difficult part of his job comes in the next two weeks, when he will cut at least 30 players.

"It's always hard," he said. "You're ending people's dreams."

Jones said there are 103 players on the Warriors' spring roster. NCAA rules limit Division I teams to 105 players for training camp in August. On the first day of the fall semester, the roster may expand.

"We're looking at 35 to 40 new players coming in," Jones said.

Because there are 115 lockers, if Jones were to cut 30 players from the spring roster, between two and seven would be asked back.

"It's a tough deal," Jones said. "It just comes down to numbers."

The Warriors will conduct a 60-play scrimmage tomorrow to conclude spring practice.

Jones said most of the starters will not be used.

"We want to play the guys down the line (on the depth chart)," Jones said. "We want to give them one last shot."

GRAUNKE PULLS HAMMY

Tyler Graunke, the No. 2 quarterback, confirmed he suffered a pulled hamstring while running for a touchdown during Wednesday's scrimmage.

Graunke initially believed he suffered a "cramp." But said the condition worsened Wednesday afternoon, and a second examination showed the injury to the hamstring.

"I'm definitely done for the (final practice of) spring," Graunke said.

Graunke already has cemented his role as the top backup to Colt Brennan.

Inoke Funaki is No. 3, and freshman walk-on Will Brogan is fourth.

NUMBERS GAME

The decision to change Mauia's jersey number to 34 means that No. 45 is up for grabs.

Jones said he wants to give it to Brennan, creating the marketing dream of "Colt 45."

So far, Brennan, who wears No. 15, is resisting.

"They all think it would be a great marketing tool to have 'Colt 45,' " Brennan acknowledged. "But it's not really a quarterback's number."

He said he wore No. 4 in high school in tribute to Brett Favre of the Green Bay Packers.

"Then I realized after high school, I wanted to have my own number," he said. "I had 15, and I liked it, and I thought it felt good. ... I think I'll stick with 15 for right now. Maybe when the right opportunity presents itself, I can switch."

BRENNAN DELIVERS

The Warriors' passing game can be measured with a pie chart.

Brennan said he will continue the tradition of buying pizza pies to reward his offensive line. The tradition started with Nick Rolovich in 2001, and was picked up by Tim Chang. Last year, Brennan supplied the pizza when he passed for at least 300 yards in a victory.

Each starting offensive lineman received his own large pie; Brennan also bought several other pies to be shared among the reserves.

"It's really a good feeling when you come into a meeting on Monday or Tuesday, and the pizza is waiting in the room," right tackle Dane Uperesa said. "Colt buys a lot. It builds morale, and it gives us something to talk about in the huddle if it looks like we're going to win."

Brennan said: "As long as they're happy, I'm happy."

Brennan said is father picks up the tab.

"I've got the dad emergency credit card," Brennan said. "Every month, there are a couple of charges on there. My dad is good about it. He wants me to take care of my blockers. My mom sleeps a lot better at night knowing the linemen are well fed and showing up on Saturday with a lot of intensity."

RUSH HOUR FOR NOA

Karl Noa is learning it's not easy to be a stand-up guy.

As a defensive end, Noa was an effective pass-rusher in the 4-3 alignment. But when defensive coordinator Jerry Glanville implemented a 3-4 scheme last year, Noa struggled.

Heftier linemen are required in the 3-4, in which defensive ends face double-blocks and must contain the run. At 6 feet 4 and 245 pounds, Noa was considered to be under-sized.

"It was hard to adapt," he said. "It's not that I did a poor job, but I like that open space."

Glanville decided to move Noa to outside linebacker, a switch that Kila Kamakawiwo'ole made last year with impressive results.

As an outside linebacker, Noa can blitz or sneak up to the line of scrimmage, wide of the grasping double teams. Noa can run 40 yards in 4.67 seconds.

"It puts that phrase, 'one day at a time,' in a whole new perspective," Noa said. "I have to work every single day, and make sure I remember what the coaches are emphasizing. Above all, it's about making plays."

The adjustment has been hindered because of Noa's health concerns. He said he suffered an injury to his left rotator cuff last season. He said he did not learn of the extent of the injury until January.

The injury did not require surgery, but it limited his weight training.

The previous season, he suffered a subluxed right shoulder that forced him to play with a harness. "It's 100 percent now," Noa said.

Reach Stephen Tsai at stsai@honoluluadvertiser.com.