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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, April 29, 2010

Turnovers whet Warriors' appetite

By Ferd Lewis

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Spencer Smith

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When a defensive back pulls, rakes, rips or otherwise dislodges the ball from a receiver at University of Hawai'i's football practice these days, it is immediately greeted by an excited chorus of ...

"Cheeseburger! Cheeseburger! Cheeseburger!"

Well, except for one holdout defensive back who interjects, "Chicken!"

Not that it really matters. "We aren't getting chicken," said senior safety Spencer Smith admits. "Or, any cheeseburgers, either."

Rather the references, assistant coach Chris Tormey's innovation, are food for thought for a defensive secondary hungry to create turnovers and make big plays this season.

"In the pros they might give you $5,000 for creating a turnover (in a game), but we can't even give cheeseburgers," said associate head coach Rich Miano, citing NCAA restrictions. "So we use food as a reminder. Instead of trying to strip the ball as an after-thought we want to make it a conditioned action every play, every practice. When the bell rings it is time to eat, just like Pavlov's dog."

And, increasingly this spring, the secondary has dined well, having its moments against the offense and a talented mix of receivers. The aggressive way it has handled itself underlines the mission the secondary takes away from spring ball, which ends with tomorrow's 7 p.m. Warrior Bowl at the T.C. Ching Athletic Complex (formerly known as Cooke Field), and the unity of purpose among the unit.

"We have an attitude," said Smith, who has been one of the foremost keepers of the flame. "We're coming after people, we're going to hit you and we're going to play together. We keep doing all that, we're going to be a pretty good defense."

It amounts to a tectonic shift from a year ago at this time when there might as well have been a huge "under construction" sign hanging over a secondary that was hastily undergoing rebuilding. The Warriors had lost four starters and were feeling their way, looking for a cohesiveness and a personality.

This spring they seem to have found it. With Smith, Lametrius Davis, Mana Silva and Jeramy Bryant all returning as starters, plus Richard Torres, Kawika Ornellas and Kenny Estes back, the secondary looks to be one of the team's biggest strengths. "We've spent more time together and are building a chemistry," Smith said. "This spring has helped."

After a long day's practice and five-week spring, Smith acknowledges cheeseburgers would be nice, but says, "it is like in the movie 'Hook' I guess we have to eat with our minds."