Lefiti ready to take center stage
• Photo gallery: UH football spring practice
BY Stephen Tsai
It rained in Mānoa yesterday.
And it was trade-windy.
But, to be sure, this was not a usual University of Hawai'i football practice.
For the first time in four years, John Estes was not on the UH campus for the start of the Warriors' spring training.
Estes, who completed his UH eligibility in December, was in Carson, Calif., preparing for today's Pro Day. Estes had not missed a practice, game or meeting during his Warrior career as a guard and then center.
In his place, at center, was Matagisila Lefiti, who will be a junior in the fall.
Lefiti knows the expectations placed on the replacement for a player who never needed replacing.
"I have to live up to the hype," Lefiti said. "You know, people have been putting me on the spot. I have to work with that. It's tough filling those shoes. I have to go with it and do what I can. I'm here to win, and that's it."
Lefiti is slightly under-sized, at 6 feet and 292 pounds, but he makes up for it with his quickness, agility, strength and, what teammates claim, nastiness.
"He has a mean streak," left tackle Austin Hansen said.
Tommy Heffernan, who is coordinating the Warriors' strength program, gave Lefiti an offseason schedule that balanced lifting, stretching and rest.
As a result, Lefiti surpassed most of his weight-room goals. His maximum bench press was 435 pounds. He benched 225 pounds 33 times. He recorded a 330-pound lift in the clean, and a 505-pound squat lift.
"Tommy is a great coach," Lefiti said. "He really helped everyone, in general, exceed their goals."
Lefiti said he learned from serving as Estes' understudy the past two seasons.
"I'm trying to take in the offense, and get everything crisp, and just follow the lead," Lefiti said.
Hansen said he is confident Lefiti will do well at center, a leadership position that is required to relay the blocking calls.
"I've got nothing but respect for Sila," Hansen said. "No player is another player. He's not John Estes, but John Estes isn't him. They play differently. Sila is going to do his job. Sila plays tough, and he is going to expect that out of us. He's going to be a great leader for us."
Slotback Kealoha Pilares has now earned the title of Mr. Clean.
During team testing, Pilares power-cleaned 356 points, the best lift by a Warrior since linebacker Stephen Gonzales' 395-pound clean in 1996.
In the clean, a lifter pulls the weights from the floor to a racked position across the deltoids.
"It's an explosive lift," Heffernan said. "It shows lower body strength and hip strength. It's an overall body movement."
Pilares had set a goal of breaking former UH running back Daniel Libre's personal best of 352.
Pilares received tips from Libre on form and technique.
"You have to pull it with all of your weight," said Pilares, who is 5 feet 10 and 200 pounds.
Pilares also improved his strength in the bench press. He benched 225 pound 23 times.
"I did seven (reps) when I first came here (in 2007)," said Pilares, a graduate of Damien Memorial High School. "I never lifted in high school. I started from ground zero."