Giving UH football a high-five
It has been more than four months since defensive ends Ikaika Alama-Francis and Melila Purcell III last pounded a quarterback on the University of Hawai'i football team's behalf.
Quite a while since running backs Nate Ilaoa and Reagan Mauia or center Samson Satele have leveled a block.
But they are still delivering for the Warriors.
Having two defensive ends, an offensive lineman and — get this — two running backs among the record five players overall selected in the NFL draft over the weekend is as big a victory as anything the Warriors snared on the field this past season. For sure it dwarfs anything they did at New Mexico State or Utah State.
Having five players drafted is a powerful statement for the Warriors. Especially when you consider that was more than Nebraska, Georgia, Oklahoma or UCLA, to name but a few marquee programs.
On draft day, with the football world looking on, UH was standing tall, rubbing shoulder pads with the elite. Standing among Southern California, Penn State, Miami, Auburn, Clemson, Florida State and Louisiana State, all schools that also had five players taken.
Put it this way, UH had more players drafted than Alabama and UCLA combined. More than Brigham Young, Minnesota, Missouri and Illinois put together. The whole, nine-team Mountain West Conference only had nine players chosen.
It made for the perfect followup to an 11-3, nationally ranked season and a resounding launch into the next recruiting period.
Not too long ago recruiters from rival schools could — and did — tell recruits that if you went to UH you could kiss your NFL hopes goodbye. That playing for a UH team 2,500 miles off the beaten path meant all but falling off the pro football radar. It wasn't usually true, of course, but with only one or two players drafted most years and, sometimes none at all, it was sellable in living rooms come the eve of letter of intent day.
Indeed, Dick Tomey used to get so frustrated in the 1980s seeing players like Jesse Sapolu go in the 11th round — or not at all — he'd lash out at NFL scouts who "... just don't do their homework." An "indictment of the scouts in pro football," he used to term their parsimonious bent on picking of UH talent.
UH had its moments with three players from the 1992 Holiday Bowl team and four from the 1986 team, both in the days of the 12-round draft. And June Jones' arrival in 1999 has brought both an upturn and steady pipeline for draftees and free agents.
But the NFL selecting in bulk this year is the kind of an advertisement the Warriors couldn't buy. The kind of affirmation they needed. "Every young person dreams of playing in the NFL, whether it is realistic or not, and they look at your school to see how many you put there," said UH assistant coach Rich Miano, a sixth-round pick in 1985. "And this (year's draft) helps us out in so many ways."
Between the Warriors' success on the field, bowl games and television appearances, UH is no longer an overlooked hotbed on pro potential.
When the Warriors set foot in the home of a defensive end prospect, they'll have a lot to point to. When they visit the school of an offensive line candidate, there is much to talk about.
While this draft was foremost a tribute to the players, it is also a sign the coaches are doing a lot right. Not only in coaching fundamentals but in evaluating and developing talent. While Nate Ilaoa was heavily recruited, Purcell and Satele were only lightly so, Mauia hardly at all and Alama-Francis was a walk-on from basketball.
Years later, however, they have put quite the exclamation point on the UH football program.
Reach Ferd Lewis at firstname.lastname@example.org or 525-8044.