These seniors are class act
BY Stephen Tsai
For four Hawai'i football seniors entering their final regular-season game, the most difficult part was completed months earlier.
Running back Inoke Funaki, defensive tackles Tuika Tufaga and Chris Leatigaga, and defensive end Antwan "Tua" Mahaley already have earned their bachelor's degrees.
"Just go to class," said Leatigaga, who earned a degree in sociology in eight semesters.
The graduates said they earned additional credits attending summer school. UH pays for up to two classes each summer. What's more, entering freshmen may now take summer-session classes instead of waiting until the fall semester.
Funaki earned his degree in psychology in December 2008. After graduating from Kahuku High, he went on a church mission for two years. He enrolled in UH in January 2005, and earned his bachelor's degree in eight semesters.
"I wouldn't consider myself an amazing student," Funaki said. "I could have put in more effort. I did what I needed to do. I was persistent. I actually didn't know I was on track to graduate early until they told me. 'Serious?' It was cool."
Mahaley, who earned a degree in public administration, is on track to earn his master's in May 2011. His football scholarship runs through May 2010. He hopes to work as a student manager or graduate assistant to pay for his remaining education.
"Obviously, we're really emphasizing academics," head coach Greg McMackin said. "Having guys go to summer school really helps. What I'd like to do is double or triple the number (of graduates) playing next year."
The Warriors end their regular season tomorrow against Wisconsin. Linebacker Brashton Satele and offensive tackle Laupepa Letuli are seeking medical hardships that would allow them to play as sixth-year seniors in 2010. Here are the Warriors who will play in their final regular-season game:
• Greg Alexander, quarterback, history major (May 2010 expected graduation).
Coach McMackin: "I feel bad for him. He had a great season going (before suffering a season-ending knee injury). He was leading the country in throwing the football. He really worked hard to get himself there. It was a shame to see him end his (UH) career like that. I see good things in his future. He's had a positive attitude, which he's always had, and I think good things are going to happen to him."
• Kimo Alo, running back, sociology (Dec. 19).
McMackin: "He's a hard-working guy whom we were working into special teams. He got injured. He's a good teammate."
• Craig Bell, wideout, sociology (May 2010).
McMackin: "Craig has worked hard, and he's overcome a lot of obstacles."
• Victor Clore, defensive end, sociology (Dec. 19).
McMackin: "Victor Clore is a great run player; tough, hard-nosed. He has a great attitude."
• John Estes, center, communications (Dec. 19).
McMackin: "John Estes is the quiet leader of our team. When he talks, everybody listens. He led that offensive line from last summer through the season. His stability turned our team around. Starting 54 games (in a row) is amazing; how a guy can be tough enough to play offensive line and do what he's done. He's a high-draft pick, and an excellent student, a first-class person."
• Fetaiagogo Fonoti, defensive end, sociology (May 2010).
McMackin: "He's a talented, big-play athlete. He has great speed. He's a competitor. He's worked hard. He played through injury the first part of the year, and he's getting back to where he was last year. He's obviously one of our best football players."
• Inoke Funaki, running back, psychology.
McMackin: "He's a team guy. That's why we could turn things around. He's a good leader. He's played on all special teams, and he still contributes on offense. He's like having a coach on the field. I have as much respect for him, probably, as any player I've coached."
• Ray Hisatake, right tackle, sociology (Dec. 19).
McMackin: "Ray has had an excellent year. Our offensive line has completely turned around, and he's one of the reasons for that. He's been very consistent, very physical. He's a vocal leader, and he's very positive."
• Raphael Ieru, right guard, sociology (Dec. 19).
McMackin: "Ralph has been consistent all year. If you wanted to have a Mr. Consistent, it would be Ralph."
• Dan Johnson, offensive lineman, speech/communication (Dec. 19).
McMackin: "I've got a lot of respect for him. He's going to graduate. He's been on the scout team throughout his four-year career. He found his role. He's proud of it. He's as important as any other player on our team. And I respect the heck out of him."
• R.J. Kiesel-Kauhane, outside linebacker, Hawaiian studies (May 2010).
McMackin: "I've seen him grow up in front of my eyes. He has developed through the weight room, through working out. He's very fast, physical, hard-nosed, excellent football player. He leads by example."
• Aaron Kia, left tackle, art (Dec. 19).
McMackin: "I think he has a chance at the next level because of his athleticism. He has the toughest position to play, at left tackle. He's really improved, and he's done a good job for us this year."
• Joey Lipp, offensive lineman, studio art (May 2010).
McMackin: "He's a good guy who has helped us a lot."
• Jon Medeiros, right slotback, sociology (Dec. 19).
McMackin: "He's a team guy. He's an excellent athlete. He's fast, quick. He was our fifth-best receiver with the guys we had this year. He didn't lose faith. I'm sure it was frustrating, but he knew his role and played his role. When he got his opportunity, just like a lot of guys have done this year, he came in and made the most of his opportunity. He's been a great player for us this year. He's made clutch plays, third-down plays."
• Chris Leatigaga, defensive tackle, sociology.
McMackin: "He got hurt in a scrimmage before the season. We thought he'd be out all season. He's back now, and he's at full speed. He went through all of the things he needed to do to get better. He's got great size, great feet, and he's worked hard. He's a good football player."
• Antwan "Tua" Mahaley, public administration.
McMackin: "Tua is an excellent athlete who was brought here as a receiver, but outgrew that. We tried to move him to defensive end, but he's just in between the positions. If we had a tight end in our package, he'd be our starting tight end. He's a good leader. He's been an inspiration to our team."
• Bo Montgomery, defensive end, sociology (May 2010).
McMackin: "He's been very valuable the last two years in our special teams."
• Viliami Nauahi, defensive end, communications (Dec 19).
McMackin: "He's a really good special-team player. Again, he's a real team leader."
• Daniel Otineru, offensive lineman, sociology (Dec. 19).
McMackin: "He's a good guy. We're sorry he wasn't able to play this year because of a physical problem. He would have played because he's a good player and he has a good attitude."
• Jayson Rego, running back, civil engineering (May 2010).
McMackin: "Jayson Rego is a hard-nosed football player. Last year he made a lot of good plays for us. This year, because we have a lot of depth at running back, he's contributed on special teams, where we've really improved. He's one of our best special-team players.
• Josh Rice, linebacker, economics (May 2010).
McMackin: "He's one of our most improved players, and one of our best special-team players."
• Rocky Savaiigaea, defensive tackle, family resources (May 2010).
Coach Mack: "He's been outstanding both on and off the football field. He's a guy who has improved. He's a perfect defensive tackle. He's physical. He has a great attitude. He's one of our captains. Just an outstanding person."
• Blaze Soares, linebacker, sociology (Dec. 19).
McMackin: "Blaze is our inspirational leader. He's one of the best linebackers I've been around, as far as being a hitter. He helped our team finish strong."
• Tuika Tufaga, defensive tackle, sociology.
McMackin: "For a defensive tackle, he's made more plays than tackles usually make because he's very active. He's strong, and plays hard. And he's a great person."
• Leon Wright-Jackson, running back, sociology (Dec. 19).
McMackin: "He's finally having one of those years. He hasn't been injured. He's making it through, and he's played hurt a couple of times. He's done what we've asked of him. He's an outstanding person. He's having a good year. He's a total back. He can run, he can catch, and we ask him to block a lot."