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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, July 27, 2007

Warriors working to protect top billing

By Stephen Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Jason Rivers

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Sept. 1 Northern Colorado

Sept. 8 at Louisiana Tech*

Sept. 15 at UNLV

Sept. 22 Charleston Southern

Sept. 29 at Idaho*

Oct. 6 Utah State*

Oct. 12 at San Jose State*

Oct. 27 New Mexico State*

Nov. 10 Fresno State*

Nov. 16 at Nevada*

Nov. 23 Boise State*

Dec. 1 Washington

*—WAC game

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Neither a weak schedule nor the loss of its media relations director has discouraged the University of Hawai'i football team.

There have been record turnouts for unsupervised practices and conditioning drills this summer.

Several recruits have come in early, paying for their housing and food, to train alongside their future teammates.

Senior wideout Jason Rivers recently suffered leg pain while trying out new leg-strengthening workouts. He had to miss a few days of practices.

"That was the hard part," Rivers said. "I wanted to be out there. I need to be out there."

Quarterback Colt Brennan said: "Everyone is working hard. We want to have a good year."

Western Athletic Conference coaches and media believe the Warriors will end Boise State's dominance. The Warriors were selected No. 1 in both WAC preseason polls.

Here's a look at the Warriors' WAC opponents:


Head coach: Chris Petersen.

2006 records: 13-0, 8-0 WAC.

Their story: Before crashing the BCS party and before the ESPY-award-winning finish in the Fiesta Bowl, the Broncos came together during a trip to Athens, Ga., the previous year. Running back Ian Johnson recalled: "We go down to Georgia and we say: 'These guys bleed like we do. They sweat like we do.' We see them running schemes, the same schemes that everyone else does. Yes, they're super-human large. But David beats Goliath." The Broncos lost that game, but a cool confidence emerged.

The Broncos need to find a replacement for quarterback Jared Zabransky and linebacker Korey Hall. But they return most of their offensive and defensive line, and, of course, Johnson, who led the nation in points (12.67 per game) and was second in rushing (142.83 yards per game). "What makes Ian Johnson great is he uses his eyes so well," Idaho linebacker David Vobora said. "I haven't seen or played against a running back who uses his eyes and can see stuff as well as he does. And he's a strong cat. You're not going to arm-tackle him."


Head coach: Pat Hill.

2006 records: 4-8, 4-4 WAC.

Their story: In previous years, the Bulldogs' most demanding football was played on weekdays. Every practice was an MMA event; the belief that toughness is a force of nurture. But last year the Bulldogs' offense became one dimensional, over-emphasizing the run, and a 1-7 start turned the swagger into a stagger.

With six senior starters, including only one on offense, the Bulldogs don't want a new beginning as much as a return to their snarling ways. "We have to put the chip back on our shoulder like we did in the past," defensive end Tyler Clutts said. "For some reason, guys checked in and checked out and didn't really do much in the fall (last year). I promise we won't be like that this year. I think guys got used to winning and expected to win instead of putting the work in, putting the preparation in. It doesn't work that way, especially in this conference."


Head coach: Robb Akey.

2006 records: 4-8, 3-5 WAC.

Their story: Each week, the players gather for cliff jumping. "They call it team bonding," cornerback Stanley Franks said, smiling. "I go, but I haven't done it. I'm the guy saying 'Jump!' while I wait at the bottom. But as long as we're there communicating, it's a good thing."

The Vandals will have to take another leap of faith in Akey, their third head coach in three years. Outside linebacker David Vobora was so crushed when Dennis Erickson decided to bolt after a year that he asked to be on the search committee. The long list of candidates included John L. Smith, who was fired by Michigan State. Vobora said Smith was the favorite until the committee interviewed Akey, who was an assistant coach eight miles away at Washington State.

"We heard a lot of things," Vobora said. "Coaches are a lot like used-car salesmen. But if you look at coach Akey, and talk to guys who have played for him, if you look in his eyes, there's something different about him."

Akey purged the team of 17 problem players, and installed a 3-4 defense that will place Vobora on the edge and give more one-on-one assignments to Franks.


Head coach: Derek Dooley.

2006 records: 3-10, 1-7 WAC.

Their story: As the son of a legendary Georgia coach and the top assistant to Nick Saban, Dooley knows stability and mobility. His two years with the Miami Dolphins, he said, were the equivalent of receiving a "PhD in Xs and Os." It was that background that helped him assess the Bulldogs' problems and what led to an opening that became his first head coaching job.

"Everyone I talked to at Tech said, 'Well, the offense isn't what it used to be,' " Dooley recalled. "I looked it up. I noticed the defense was ranked last in about every statistical category. I'm thinking to myself: Is everybody dyslexic in Ruston or am I missing something? Obviously, our starting point is improving the defense." Dooley, at least, will have the bodies. Ten defensive starters return. He said he is emphasizing the basics: scheme discipline, toughness, tackling. "Those are buzz words, but they mean a lot to me and they'll mean a lot to our players," Dooley said.


Head coach: Chris Ault.

2006 records: 8-5, 5-3 WAC.

Their story: Before John Archer became director of strength and conditioning in 2000, the Wolf Pack had only one player who could bench press 400. Now Nevada is one of the WAC's most physically fit teams, symbolized by nose guard Matt "Dump Truck" Hines, who has benched 505 pounds, squatted 745 pounds and cleaned 348 pounds.

Hines had the team's bench record, at 475, when he suffered a chest injury. After Hines recovered, his roommate broke Hines' bench-press record during a morning session. "There was no way I was going to let him take away my record," Hines said. That afternoon, he went into the weight room, listened to some hard-rock music on his iPod, and benched 505. His roommate's 3-hour-old record never made it on the Wall of Fame. Hines needs his strength to play football's most abused position, where he regularly faces double blocks. "You don't know where it's coming from, but you're getting hit no matter what," Hines said. "I'm used to it. I enjoy it. I'm right in the thick of things."


Head coach: Hal Mumme.

2006 records: 4-8, 2-6 WAC.

Their story: Chris Williams, a 5-foot-8 wideout who led the nation in receiving yards (117.9) and catches (7.66) per game last year, is used to raising the bar. As a high school senior, he placed the high-jump bar at 7 feet. He would come up short, but the next week, the bar was placed at 7 feet. "I remember my state meet," he said. "I cleared it and didn't touch it, but (the bar) just fell. I was my so angry with myself. I wasn't going to give up. I cleared 6-10 many times, but my goal is to always get better. If I cleared 7, I would have set the goal at 7-1."

Mumme, beginning his third year at NMSU, hopes Williams' approach is contagious. Chase Holbrook (4,619 passing yards in 2006) is the WAC's second-best quarterback. The defense is improving under Woody Widenhofer, a former Pittsburgh Steelers' defensive coordinator. "I think we're going to shock a lot of people this year," safety Derrick Richardson said. "Coach Mumme told us to be pirates. Go in and pillage the village, take what's ours."


Head coach: Dick Tomey.

2006 records: 9-4, 5-3 WAC.

Their story: At the WAC Football Preview, the coaches spoke highly of the linebacker they only could pronounce as No. 35. "Hopefully, they'll know my name this year," said Matt Castelo, who is the nation's top returning tackler with a career average of 9.42 per game. He made 165 tackles last year.

FSU coach Pat Hill likened Castelo to Teddy Bruschi of the New England Patriots. "I've been playing linebacker since I was 8 years old," Castelo said. "The coaches have been teaching me to have a feel for what's going to happen before the snap." Although he had a brief stint as a running back in high school, he knew linebacker was a better fit. "I've always loved the physical part of football," Castelo said. "There's nothing like running full speed to knock somebody down." Castelo has a strong following among fellow Filipinos. His teammates also have embraced his culture. "Everybody loves my grandparents' lumpia," he said.


Head coach: Brent Guy.

2006 records: 1-11, 1-7 WAC.

Their story: Inspiration sometimes comes from television, and it was while watching the History Channel, defensive end Ben Calderwood decided to grow a goatee. "I saw this special on Egyptians, and I thought it was pretty cool," he said. "I was debating whether to grow my hair long or grow a goatee." The Aggies, in general, are seeking a new look after last year's disaster. What's more, their top running back transferred and their best quarterback went on a church mission. During a team meeting, Guy asked his players to come up with a theme. They decided on the phrase: "Win."

"The meaning, to me, is we need to win the small things to win the big things," Calderwood said. "From the end of last season, we needed to win each day. When we lift or run, we need to put forth our best effort. Every day we win will help us on Saturday nights in the fall."

Visit Tsai’s blog at http://blogs.honoluluadvertiser.com.

Reach Stephen Tsai at stsai@honoluluadvertiser.com.