Pilares is starring in playmaker role
• Photo gallery: Hawaii football practice April 19
By Stephen Tsai
Kealoha Pilares was on the move, and for the first time in his four-year University of Hawai'i football career, that was a good thing.
Pilares, who has played three offensive positions at UH — sometimes all in the same calendar year — yesterday was given new duties as the Warriors' No. 1 right slotback. He aligned wide, in the slot, in the backfield and, a few times, in motion. It is part of the Warriors' renewed philosophy of helping playmakers make plays.
"We've been talking about it for years," Pilares said. "Finally, we're getting around to installing it."
Pilares, who will be a senior in the fall, appears to have gained focus. He has been more disciplined in the weight room, and more assertive on the field.
"I'm taking it one day at a time," Pilares said. "That's what I've been thinking about. It's my last year. You never know if you'll be playing football again. I'm just living it up, having fun, and taking it day by day."
There were great expectations placed on Pilares after he withdrew from the Air Force Academy program and transferred to UH.
Pilares, who was projected to be a starting receiver, instead became a part-time starter at running back as a freshman in 2007.
The following season, he moved to slotback, but then was asked to return to running back. In 2009, after splitting time between running back and slotback in spring training, he opened as the No. 1 right slotback in training camp.
But at about the midway point of the season, left wideout Rodney Bradley suffered season-ending leg fractures. Pilares was moved to left wideout, a position he had never played previously.
At that spot, Pilares was used mostly as a decoy, opening the passing lanes for his successor, Jon Medeiros, and left slotback Greg Salas.
As a slotback in 2009, Pilares caught 71.4 percent of the passes in which he was the primary target. As a wideout, his completion efficiency dropped to 47.8 percent.
But as his receptions diminished, his appreciation of the offense widened. The big picture was more visible from the wideout position.
"Moving to wideout made everything more understandable," Pilares said. "Now, you're not just running a route, you're running a concept. Now I understand why I was running the route, and how it would affect the other receivers."
Pilares also said he understands the benefits of the offseason conditioning program. As a Damien Memorial student, Pilares hardly lifted weights. Now he can bench press a maximum 330 pounds. This spring, he had the best power clean among the Warriors, lifting 365 pounds.
"Getting in the weight room gives you a little more confidence," Pilares said. "You don't feel scared or anything. You can imagine my freshman year how scared I was going against (linebacker) Blaze (Soares) and (rush end David) Veikune in practice. I was this little guy. It was hard."
Pilares, who is 5 feet 10, has gained about 25 pounds during his UH career, and now weighs 200.
PAREDES STEPPING UP
The jersey number — 41 — remains the same, but the attitude has undergone a transformation.
Weakside linebacker Corey Paredes, who became emotional when he was awarded a football scholarship last year, has emerged as one of the fiercest Warriors.
Not only is he an efficient blitzer, but he is an aggressive run-stopper and, even, a capable pass defender. Paredes remains on the field when the Warriors shift from their base 4-3 alignment to a 4-2-5 nickel defense.
"The coaches gave a talk that some leaders have to step up," Paredes said. "I want to be a leader, so I changed my demeanor a little bit."
While still pleasant off the field, Paredes said: "It's hard to have friends on (the other team) on the field. You have to work with your teammates as a battle unit. If it takes having a serious attitude, that's what I'll do."
Paredes was in the program for two years before earning a scholarship. He also overcame tough competition to secure a starting job.
Sometimes, some players lose their edge after earning a scholarship.
"We see it sometimes," Paredes said. "I'm thankful for (the scholarship). I'm grateful to the coaches. But having a scholarship is not going to change how hard I work. I'm working just as hard."
HENRY WAITING FOR SHOT
Every play, it seems, Ryan Henry puts up a fight.
This spring training, Henry is the unofficial leader in absorbing hits.
"That's part of the game," said Henry, who will be a fifth-year senior in the fall. "I'm trying to show the coaches I can take hits, that I'm ready to play at this level."
Indeed, Henry, who is the top understudy to left slotback Salas, has endured his share of hard knocks.
He was recruited, in 2008, to compete for one of the slotback positions vacated by Davone Bess and Ryan Grice-Mullins, now both with the Miami Dolphins. Although he played well in training camp, it was decided that Henry would redshirt in 2008.
Last spring, Henry was uneven, mixing spectacular catches with untimely drops. He entered training camp behind Pilares and Dustin Blount at right slotback.
Eventually, Blount would slip on the depth chart because of a severe hamstring injury, and Pilares would move to left slotback. But it was Medeiros, not Henry, who would elevate to No. 1 right slotback.
"It gets frustrating," Henry said. "I came in with big expectations."
But Henry continues to bite his mouthpiece and work hard.
"I'm waiting on my opportunity," Henry said. "All I can do is play hard and not show any bad body language. ... I had dreams. I want to continue to play after this. I don't want this to be the end of it. I have to keep working hard. That's all I can control."
He added: "The main thing is I want to go to a bowl game. That matters the most."