No fear factor for these Warriors
|Photo gallery: UH Football Practice|
By Stephen Tsai
By Stephen Tsai
Imagine the human-resources director who will look at Richard Torres' application and, under work experience, see: Head-hunter.
"That's his job," said Ikaika Malloe, who coordinates the Hawai'i football's special-teams units.
To energize the Warriors' kickoff, punt and kick return units, Malloe sought a few good — but crazed — men.
The answers came from stars (linebackers Adam Leonard and Solomon Elimimian), starters (defensive backs Erik "E-Rob" Robinson and Calvin Roberts) and the fearless (defensive backs Spencer Smith, Dane Porlas and Torres).
Smith and Torres are the bookends on the kickoff unit. They play the positions known as the head-hunters. Their primary role is to seek out the kick returner.
Smith is 5 feet 11 and 200 pounds. Torres is 5-7 and 165. Both have to blast through man-made wedges of blockers.
"I don't know if they love what they do or if they're completely insane," kicker Dan Kelly said. "I like to think they're insane. I've never seen people hit a wedge like they do."
Smith said: "I don't think I'm crazy. I'll take 'hard-worker' over crazy. I try my hardest every time. That's why I get labeled 'crazy' by Dan."
Torres draws inspiration from last year's wedge-busters, undersized Guyton Galdeira and Ryan Keomaka.
"Those guys are the crazy ones," Torres said. "All I do is try to run at full speed all of the time. When I see the wedge, I just react and go full speed. I figure if I slow down, I'll get run over."
After evaluating the first three games, the UH coaches felt changes were needed on some of the special-teams units. About 20 players were asked to audition. Torres seized the coaches' attention.
"I think people will be excited to see him play," Malloe said. "His job will be the head-hunter. He'll find the ball. If you watch the wedge, you should see Richard Torres. He's what (long-time UH) fans remember seeing — guys running down there (on kickoffs), not caring about what's in front of them. He'll match up with guys twice his size. It doesn't bother him. He loves it. He'll run in there and knock himself out."
Wanting to lead by example, two of the team captains, Leonard and Elimimian, volunteered for special duty. Leonard will be on punt coverage. Elimimian is the center on the front line of the kick-return team.
"I'm a team player," Elimimian said. "I told (the coaches): 'If you need me, let me know.' They let me know."
Leonard also notified the coaches of his interest.
"I want to help out any way I can," Leonard said. "I'm doing what I can."
To be sure, some RSVPs were automatic. Tyson Kafentzis, a reserve outside linebacker, is on five special-teams units. During his UH career, the fifth-year senior has overcome a variety of injuries. He once played despite a broken pelvic bone.
"I want to be on every (unit)," Kafentzis said. "I'm a senior. I don't want to graduate and second guess myself. That would be the worst thing. I would never want that. I want to go out with a bang. I don't want to leave anything hanging."
Kafentzis is a second-generation Warrior. His father, Mark, was a hard-hitting safety who also played on special teams. His four uncles also were fearless UH defensive backs.
"I know the history," Kafentzis said. "Special teams is huge here. Like coach said, some people come here just to watch kickoffs."
Kafentzis, who serves as wedge buster, also knows the tab is running.
"Being a wedge breaker takes a few years off your life," he said. "From my special-team (involvement), I've probably lost 10 years out of my life."
He added: "It was definitely worth it."Health checks
Graunke said his sore right (throwing) hand is "feeling good. I'm not 100 percent yet, but I will be there."
He said he receives treatment "three or four " times a day for the base of his right thumb and right wrist. His hand was bandaged yesterday. He said he will wear a bandage on his wrist against San Jose State Saturday.
"It's nothing major," said Taylor, who also will be used as a kick returner. "I'm good to go. I'm ready."
Reach Stephen Tsai at firstname.lastname@example.org.