Division III players dancing with stars
By Brandon Masuoka
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Brandon Masuoka
Hawai'i's Derek Turbin received a good break last week, while Oregon native Brett Elliott got a bad one three years ago at the University of Utah.
Turbin and Elliott — both Division III standouts — epitomize the spirit of the Cornerstone Bancard Hula Bowl that celebrates its 60th anniversary today at Aloha Stadium. Kickoff is 2 p.m.
With bowls pressured to attract marquee players to increase attendance and prestige, Turbin from Occidental College (Calif.) and Elliott from Linfield (Ore.) represent the underdogs, or as one coach put it, "diamonds in the rough" — players who will do anything to play football.
"We've got players who have a lot of pedigree, so to speak," said Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville, who will coach the East team that has Turbin and Elliott. "But you have a lot of guys, coming in here that are opening a lot of eyes. That's what's fun to watch about this bowl."
Turbin is one of seven Hula Bowl players with Hawai'i ties scheduled to play today. The others are University of Hawai'i safety Lono Manners, linebacker Tanuvasa Moe, defensive end Kila Kamakawiwo'ole and offensive guard Brandon Eaton; Texas Tech tight end Bristol Olomua (Kahuku); and Colorado nose guard Vaka Manupuna (St. Louis). Washington linebacker Joe Lobendahn (St. Louis) is injured and won't play.
Turbin, a 6-foot-4, 215-pound defensive back and 2002 Punahou graduate, was a Hula Bowl alternate, but received an invitation last week after some players dropped out from the game. Turbin helped lead Occidental to a 9-1 record and its second consecutive conference championship.
"It's been crazy," said Turbin, who practiced with a blue-and-yellow Punahou helmet early this week because his gear had yet to arrive. "I've been living on Cloud Nine the past few days.
"It's awesome to play with all these guys who are getting scouted by the NFL, guys who I'm going to be watching on TV for a long time, and reading about in Sports Illustrated."
Elliott, a 6-foot-3, 210-pound quarterback, broke his non-throwing left wrist in 2003 when he was the starting quarterback at Utah. He transferred to Linfield for two seasons and went 23-1, and took the Wildcats to the 2004 Division III national championship. This season, he earned the Melberger Award as the top Division III Player in the country.
"I just don't want to stop playing," said Elliott, who passed for 110 touchdowns and 8,614 yards as a Wildcat. "The NFL is obviously the golden nugget, but if it's somewhere else, so be it."
In his junior season at Utah, Elliott fractured his wrist in a 28-26 loss at Texas A&M in the second game of the 2003 season. His backup, sophomore Alex Smith, took over and went 21-1 in two seasons as a starter, and guided the Utes to a 12-0 season in 2004. Smith was the No. 1 overall selection of the San Francisco 49ers in April.
"Alex Smith came in and played great," said Elliott, who is participating in his second all-star game, having gone to the to the Las Vegas All-American Classic last Saturday. "I knew I would sit behind Alex, so I decided to go home to a school near me that has a storied program and history of winning and throwing the rock around a lot. I decided to go home and go to Linfield and had the best two years of my life."
Elliott, from Lake Oswego, Ore., said his main goal of transferring from Division I Utah to Division III Linfield was to "get back on the field" and not to rewrite the record books.
"It was to go there and play, and hopefully win a national championship; we accomplished both of those," said Elliott, who set 31 school records, two Division III records and one all-divisions mark.
Auburn coach Tuberville said Elliott has "good technique and fundamentals."
"You can tell he's been coached very well at both schools," Tuberville said. "We like the way he releases the ball. He throws the out routes really well. He's accurate and he's got good footwork. Quarterbacks, to me, in a game like this have to rely on their fundamentals. Obviously, he's sound all the way around."
As for Turbin, he said he would love to play football overseas, possibly in the NFL Europe League or the Canadian Football League.
Turbin, who is majoring in American Studies and carries a 3.3 grade point average, has one more semester at Occidental, and eventually wants to pursue law or business school.
This season, Turbin earned first team All-Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference honors. He finished with 50 1/2 tackles, including 39 solo stops, broke up five passes and had three tackles for loss with a half sack.
Tuberville said Turbin has "got a great attitude."
"He's come to me several times wanting to be on special teams," Tuberville said. "I like guys like that. I like guys that are interested in going out and playing, maybe not just a position, but playing special teams."
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