Fast Lane got on track with backyard football
By Stephen Tsai
By Stephen Tsai
University of Hawai'i football player Malcolm Lane would not be one of the nation's top kickoff returners if it were not for "Red," Calvin Dudley, and the grass lot behind his grandmother's house.
Lane traces his elusive return skills to "playing backyard football" in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
He was in middle school, and the game was touch football.
Lane and his best friends, including Dudley and "Antoine — we called him 'Red,' " — met in the lot behind his grandmother's house.
"We used to play 7-on-7," Lane said. "You need moves to break away from somebody playing touch (football). It's easier to shake somebody when it's tackle because (the defender) has to fully wrap you up."
That training has helped Lane become a feared kickoff returner.
Entering tomorrow's game against Idaho, Lane is ranked sixth nationally, averaging 30.08 yards per return. Florida State's Michael Ray Garvin leads with a 32.23-yard average. But in the last three games, Lane is averaging 41.29 yards on seven returns.
"He's doing a great job," said Ikaika Malloe, who coordinates UH's special-team units.
Lane said he relies on the five-step method: Catch the kickoff, take five strides forward, then pick an open path.
"The wedge and the blockers up front do all of the dirty work," Lane said. "Those are the hardest jobs on the team. I just feed off of them. They hype me up. They make the play. All of the credit goes to the blockers."
When Lane hits the hole, his world goes silent.
"I'm kind of in a blur," he said. "I don't hear anything. I'm so focused."
But he is cognizant of the surrounding collisions. Each block is a metaphorical chain reaction of accidents.
"I'm running and I'm like, 'ooh, somebody is getting blown up,' " Lane said. "It's like a big car wreck. I don't want to slow down and look. I have to keep running hard and looking for the next seam."
He knows he has reached the second level, much in the way a baseball outfielder knows he is nearing the warning track.
"That's when it goes hoooo," he said. "That's when you start hyper-ventilating. When I get to the second level, I get excited. I need to relax more. Just like the Utah State (return). I started hyper-ventilating, and couldn't make it."
In that game, he fumbled on a 91-yard run, just shy of the end zone.
But that was near the end of the game in which the outcome was out of reach. Malloe said what Lane does on kickoffs, jump-starting the Warriors' offense, provides an emotional lift.
And kickoff returns, in turn, have helped improve Lane's work as a receiver.
"Kick returns get me hyped," Lane said. "I always try to go hard every play. I like to get involved, and when I'm feeling more involved, I play a lot better."
NO CHANGES FORECAST
Tomorrow's forecast — heavy rain — will not alter the Warriors' plans, head coach Greg McMackin said.
"It doesn't matter," he said. "We've practiced in rain all year. The only thing that bothers a game plan is snow, and I know it's not going to snow. Rain doesn't affect anything as far as we're concerned."
Long-snapper Jake Ingram said he has prepared for adverse conditions. He often will pour iced water onto a football, then practicing snapping.
"If it rains, I've got to focus on what I've got to do," Ingram said. "I've got to rely on my skills. If I do, the rain shouldn't be a factor."
What's more, he said, "as long as I keep a towel and dry my hands, I'm all right."
McMackin used the possibility of rain to note the new apparel deal the UH athletic department and UnderArmour signed in the spring.
"Shoot, we've got the best cleats in the world," McMackin said, smiling. "Why are we worried?"
'INSURING' THE RECOVERY
According to associate head coach Rich Miano, defensive backs Richard Torres and Spencer Smith have been nicknamed "Allstate."
"They're the 'good hands' people," Miano said.
Torres and Smith serve as blockers or wedge-setters on the kickoff-return team. But this week, they trained as the receivers for onside kicks.
"They're good athletes who can catch the ball," Miano said. "And they're tough."
The NCAA allows the kickoff team to "overload" six players, placing that amount on one side of the tee.
"That's how many are coming at you when the ball is in the air," Miano said. "You're exposed. You've got to catch it, and you're going to get hit. You can't put a skinny receiver out there and fair catch it. If the ball hits the ground, it's a free ball. Just because you're a receiver and have good hands, it doesn't mean you can field onside kicks. You also need courage."
Or, as Malloe said, "You have to be a special kind of guy. Those two guys have the mentality they'll go and get (the football) no matter what."
Smith, a safety, said he will depend on a wall of blockers creating a pocket.
"Hopefully, none (of the opposing players) will come through," Smith said. "If they do, I have to focus on catching the ball. If I get hit, I get hit."
Torres developed toughness as a state champion wrestler and judoka.
"You've got to go up for the ball and pray," Torres said. "They're going to be gunning for you. You've got to trust the guys in front, that they'll clean those guys out before they clean me out. I've got to concentrate on the ball. I'm going to get hit, anyway. I might as well catch it."
Smith said his father was helpful in teaching him receiving skills. Mel Smith would use a tennis racket to hit tennis ball as high as he could. Spencer Smith then would try to catch them as if he were fielding a punt.
"It went pretty high," Smith said. "If you catch a tennis ball, you can catch a football."
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