Hawaii's Warriors head off to bayou
|Photo gallery: University of Hawaii football|
By Stephen Tsai
By Stephen Tsai
Like most of his University of Hawai'i football teammates, all Blaze Soares wanted for Christmas was two front seats.
But with an okole assigned to each of the 264 seats on the Hawaiian Airlines charter to New Orleans yesterday, Soares would settle for a window seat.
"I'm looking forward to the game," said Soares, as he prepared to board, "but not the plane ride."
Indeed, nobody said the journey to the Sugar Bowl, in the figurative or literal sense, would be easy for the nation's only undefeated Division I-A football team.
The 7-hour, 55-minute, non-stop flight was the equivalent, in duration, to four UH practices.
"It's tough to get used to long flights," said wideout Malcolm Lane, who used to travel from Germany, where his mother was stationed when she was in the military, to California, where friends and relatives live. "Those flights were crazy. It's hard to keep occupied on long flights."
But UH and the airline tried to accommodate yesterday's travel party of players, coaches, administrators, staff and family members. Some of the Warriors, including Heisman Trophy finalist Colt Brennan and All-America third-team slotback Davone Bess, departed Sunday to spend the holidays with family on the Mainland. They will rejoin the team today in New Orleans, site of the Jan. 1 Sugar Bowl.
The rest met in the Stan Stan Sheriff Center parking lot yesterday afternoon for the bus ride to the airport.
UH Manoa chancellor Virginia Hinshaw and her husband, Bill, greeted the players. The Hinshaws were included in the travel party.
"It's a wonderful adventure for everybody," said the chancellor, who wore her now-familiar sparkled cowboy hat adorned with the Warriors' "H" logo.
In her first year as Manoa chancellor, Hinshaw has not experienced a UH football loss. The Warriors were 12-0 during the regular season.
"It's the hat," she said, laughing. "It's kind of a good-luck charm."
Wide receiver Jason Rivers brought two boxes filled with T-shirts, placing the containers in front of the truck loaded with football equipment.
"Secret Santa," Rivers said, smiling. And he would have been, except the T-shirts bear his image on the side, and "Rivers" and No. 84 on the back. Nearly every UH football senior has distributed personalized T-shirts to teammates.
"It's a dream come true," said running back Daniel Libre, rummaging for a size-L shirt. "
"This completes the collection," receiver Jett Jasper added.
Punter Tim Grasso said: "It's a cherry on top. (Rivers is) one of the best players on the team. To finally get a shirt is great. My dad's his biggest fan. Every time my dad sees him, he says, 'That's Jason Rivers! That's Jason Rivers!' I'm like, 'Yeah, dad, calm down.' "
Associate athletic director Carl Clapp is overseeing the entire travel party, which includes the band and cheerleaders. Two other full charter flights are scheduled to leave tomorrow.
"Four words: personal responsibility and accountability," Clapp said, smiling. "It's a big group. But they'll take care of themselves."
The five buses had staggered arrivals at the airport, where some fans, Hawaiian Airlines workers, and reporters awaited. After taking the escalator to the second floor and going through security screening, the Warriors were greeted by a band and hula dancers.
Each player received a white towel and green beads with a medallion of an "H" logo.
"I'm excited," Rivers said. "It was high-level practices all week. Everybody's pumped. Nobody geared down. Everybody's ready to go. This game means a lot. I was born and raised in Hawai'i. This game has meaning to me and the program. It's going to be an awesome experience."
Reach Stephen Tsai at email@example.com.
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