Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted at 2:17 p.m., Wednesday, October 31, 2007

AP: Several Warriors thriving at 'Second Chance U'

AP Sports Writer

Hawai'i coach June Jones has built a winning program relying on rejects.

Several standouts for the 12th-ranked and unbeaten Warriors were once jettisoned by other schools after they were incarcerated, injured or simply didn't fit in.

Besides believing in second chances, Jones has accepted unwanted athletes because Hawai'i, 2,500 miles from Los Angeles, can't recruit top prep talent the way other major college programs do. While plenty of teens like to go away to college, few want to make at least a 5-hour plane trip to get back home.

"We're 0 for 500. It just doesn't happen," Jones said. "It's becoming more of a possibility, but as of now, it's about a 0 percent chance, unless they have a tie here."

The only blue chip recruits Hawai'i has a chance on are the ones who have a connection to the islands or come from adverse personal lives, such as a broken home, Jones said.

"We've had to look at guys a little more than other schools that maybe had difficulties. It's our job as coaches to help them through their difficult times," Jones said.

The recruiting woes could change soon if the Warriors (8-0) keep winning and break into a BCS bowl. They have won 18 of their last 19 games, a school-record 12 straight conference games and matched the best start since 1973.

Hawai'i's second-chance stars are: quarterback Colt Brennan, receiver Davone Bess, linebacker Adam Leonard and running back Leon Wright-Jackson.

"I've been lucky," Jones said. "I've chosen some good kids that I've taken chances on."

After washing out at other schools, those players are thriving at Hawai'i with the NFL in their sights. They have found redemption and a new home in the islands — a world away from their darkest days.

"A lot of people got their second chance over here and are making the best out of it," Leonard said.

Brennan is the Warriors' poster boy for making the most of a second chance.

He was let loose by Colorado in 2003 immediately after a woman accused him of entering her dorm room and fondling her. Brennan pleaded not guilty and spent seven days in jail after being convicted of burglary and trespassing for not leaving the dorm promptly.

Hawai'i offered him an opportunity when several schools wouldn't, including Syracuse, where school administrators denied a scholarship offer.

After speaking with Jones, Brennan walked-on at Hawai'i. NCAA passing records have been falling ever since.

As payback to Jones and the school, Brennan withdrew from the 2007 NFL draft to return for his senior season. At his announcement, a tearful Brennan said: "I like the person I'm becoming in Hawai'i. I want to give back to a school that gave back to me."

"I didn't come back for me," Brennan said in an interview. "If it was about me, I would've left. I came back to give Hawai'i a great year and do something special."

Bess also came to Hawai'i after being locked up, as did St. Louis Rams linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa, who was one of Jones' first recruits.

Tinoisamoa, who spent four months in prison his senior year of high school in southern California, has said playing for Hawai'i was the best decision in his life and kept him away from trouble.

"They made mistakes," Jones said. "If they repeated those mistakes, they wouldn't be here. But I knew they were good kids and they've all been good citizens, so I'm proud of them."

A month after graduating from Skyline High School in Oakland, Calif., Bess was arrested after allowing friends to put stolen property in his car. The mistake cost him a scholarship at Oregon State and more than a year of his life.

He served 15 months in a juvenile detention facility and was determined to make a difference if given an opportunity. He has.

The junior is easily on pace to break Hawai'i's career marks in receptions and receiving yards. He has already tied the school record of 38 career touchdowns.

"I think he's appreciative of the second chance and it's not going to let it slip through his fingers," Jones said. "He's just a great kid and one of the hardest workers I've ever had."

The players have thrived here for several reasons.

They're isolated thousands of miles away from their friends, families and problems. Many have bonded with teammates, focused on football and proven their doubters wrong.

"To come here and be able to play the game, relax, enjoy life, allows you to go out there and succeed," Brennan said. "I think it's just a great environment."

He said players who faced major challenges have learned about life and responsibility.

"When you see kids who have gone through a lot of tragedy, a lot of heartache and yet they're still persevering in life, then there's something to be said about that," he said.

Leonard said many Warriors have experienced hardships.

"Everybody has a story here," he said. "That kind of bonds us even closer than a regular team where you got all the top talent in the nation and everyone comes with their own egos. ... We want to work that much harder to prove people wrong."

Leonard was heavily recruited out of Rainier Beach High School in Seattle. The phone calls and letters stopped coming when he blew out a knee.

"The schools called me once just to see what happened. They told me they would call me back, and they never did," said Leonard, who has 72 tackles and four interceptions this season.

"I sent out tapes hoping that somebody would give me a scholarship," he said. "It was tough, especially because I thought I was one of the best players in Washington, if not the nation."

Along came Hawai'i.

"They showed the interest and I'm just paying them back for the opportunity," Leonard said. "So, I'm just thankful."

Wright-Jackson was a Parade All-America running back from Pasco, Wash., who signed with Nebraska. At Lincoln, he became frustrated as he was bounced from running back to safety to receiver. So he left and played at junior college before joining the Warriors.

"It didn't work out at Nebraska," he said. "But I found where I need to be and it's here."

Wright-Jackson is averaging 5.9 yards a carry and has 11 catches for 108 yards for the Warriors.

Jones also received a second chance.

In 2001, he was involved in a near-fatal car accident when he plowed into a concrete pillar. He doesn't know how he survived.

The word is now out that Hawai'i is Second Chance U.

"We do get a lot of inquires because of the track record, but at the same time, it's my job to pick which kids I think can actually do it," Jones said.

Jones acknowledges he's been burned a couple times.

"I tried to correct them. I tried to get them straightened out. I gave them two or three opportunities, but at some point you have to draw the line," he said. "So they're no longer here."