Warriors savor arrival into top 25
By Stephen Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Stephen Tsai
For the University of Hawai'i football team, it was the sweetest Sunday.
"It was lovely, just lovely," slotback Davone Bess said after yesterday's announcements that the Warriors were ranked No. 25 in The Associated Press top 25, USA Today coaches poll, and Harris Interactive rankings. (The Advertiser's Ferd Lewis is an AP voter; the Star-Bulletin's Cindy Luis is a Harris panelist.)
The Warriors were last ranked in the top 25 on Nov. 26, 2002, when they were 24th in the coaches poll.
"I figured we would be ranked with the numbers we've been putting up," Bess said, referring to the Warriors' status as the nation's highest scoring team. They have scored 49 or more points in six consecutive blowouts.
"It feels great," inside linebacker Adam Leonard said. "We always knew we were one of the best teams in the country. We're glad we're finally getting recognition for it."
Slotback Ryan Grice-Mullins said the rankings "made all of that hard work over the summer worth it. There's a lot of sweat in our record."
Hawai'i coach June Jones said the Warriors are fulfilling a pledge they made during training camp. It was then that Jones spelled out a series of goals — win at either Boise State or Fresno State; compete for a Western Athletic Conference championship; earn a bowl berth, and finish the season in the national rankings.
"I told them specifically what we had a chance to do, as long as we took each game one at a time, and trusted in each other," Jones said.
The Warriors lost road games to Alabama and Boise State, and after four weeks, they were 1-2.
"We didn't win at Boise State, but we knew we would be OK if we won at Fresno State," Jones said. "One game at a time."
But starting with the 44-9 rout of Eastern Illinois on Sept. 23, the Warriors would not lose again. Saturday's 54-17 victory over San Jose State was the Warriors' school-record eighth in a row.
Along the way, they crushed Fresno State, 68-37; clinched a winning regular season and accompanying berth in the Sheraton Hawai'i Bowl, and launched quarterback Colt Brennan's Heisman candidacy.
They did it with a limited marketing budget, and in the relative anonymity of the WAC.
"Being way out here, and not getting much TV pub, it's really sweet to be ranked," Grice-Mullins said. "It's a nice reward. I'm happy for the seniors. They've been giving so much to the program. They've made so many sacrifices. I'm happy for a guy like Sam."
Center Samson Satele declined an opportunity to apply for the National Football League draft to return for his senior season.
"I'm glad we could have a good season for Sam," Grice-Mullins said. "He really deserved it."
Jerry Glanville, in his second season as UH's defensive coordinator, said the Warriors should be ranked in the top 10. But he said the early losses made for a steep ascent to national respect.
"The players really earned it," Glanville said. "Really, I know how important it is to them. They wanted to do something special, and this is something special. The players deserve it, and June deserves it. He put a lot of work into this. I get to see what the public doesn't, and I see how much effort he gives."
But Glanville, who was head coach of two NFL teams before ending a 12-year hiatus to sign with UH, added: "I'm not used to being rated. When I was in the NFL, we didn't have rankings. We had the playoffs, and we tried to win them."
Rich Miano, a former UH defensive back who played 11 seasons in the NFL, said the Warriors should have been ranked earlier.
"It's too bad those early-season losses affected our ability to get where we should have been a couple of weeks ago," Miano said. "We have a few games left to prove we're better than we're ranked now."
Indeed, the focus now shifts to winning the final two games of the regular season — against Purdue of the Big Ten and Oregon State of the Pac-10 — and defeating a Pac-10 opponent in the Hawai'i Bowl.
"It's nice to be in the Top 25, but it will be better to stay in there," Brennan said. "We have a chance to do that if we can win the next two games."
Leonard said: "We need to finish out strong."
Jones said the rankings are "nice as short-term goals. But our goal was to be ranked at the end of the season. That's why I don't have any thought about the (current) rankings. We're concerned about winning, and winning takes care of that kind of stuff."
This is the first time UH is ranked in the AP poll, selected by a panel of sports media, since Jan. 2, 1993, when it was No. 20. Back then, the AP ranked the top 20 teams. UH had finished the 1992 season with an 11-2 record.
If the Warriors win their remaining games, they will finish with a school-record 12 victories.
"That's one of our goals, to be known as one of the best teams in school history," Brennan said.
PRANK TEXTS FIRE UP 'D'
A case of mistaken identity helped the Warriors defeat San Jose State.
UH's Bess and San Jose State running back Yonus Davis were high school teammates in Oakland, and they spoke to each other Friday night. Each expressed his goal for the game. Davis said he wanted to rush for 200 yards, a prediction that Bess relayed to the UH defense.
On Friday night, Leonard received several text messages in which Davis said the inside linebackers "were trash."
"He had no respect for us," UH inside linebacker Solomon Elimimian said. "He kept text messaging Adam."
As it turned out, it was UH slotback Michael Washington, pretending to be Davis, who sent the text messages.
"It was Mike playing around," Leonard said, laughing. "He got us going. Mike made us almost want to kill the man."
Davis, who entered as the nation's 16th-leading rusher, finished with 29 yards on 14 carries, an average of 2.1 yards per run.
Told of Washington's prank, Glanville said, "That's funny. We should have a reporter send messages to our players this week."
After reviewing videotapes of the game, Glanville gave his defensive players a grade of "awesome."
"They made a few errors that we can fix, but they just did a great job," Glanville said.
Jones said he was concerned entering the game. SJSU coach Dick Tomey, a former UH coach, is known for his aggressive defenses and special teams.
But Jones praised his defense, which amassed five sacks, saying: "We out-hit them, out-quicked them, out-wanted-it."
Reach Stephen Tsai at firstname.lastname@example.org.