Max Hall started for the first time at the collegiate level last season and fared far better than most quarterbacks do in their first season. Hall put up stellar numbers and showed great leadership as a sophomore and is working hard to improve those numbers this season. In fact, he made some notable strides during spring practice.
Hall's delivery has sped up, which corresponds directly with his ability to recognize coverages. He was machine-like this past spring, leading to loads of optimism regarding his - and indeed the entire offensive unit's - prospects.
Who will be backing up Hall this coming season is the byline that holds the most intrigue this next August. Brenden Gaskins manned the backup role last season, but a charge from Kurt McEuen during practices has created a new battle for Hall's backup slot.
Gaskins and McEuen battled it out throughout spring practices without a resolution and will likely pick up where they left off this weekend when fall practices begin. With neither Gaskins nor McEuen showing a distinct edge at this juncture, one can anticipate them to battle right up until kickoff against Northern Iowa.
Stephen Covey will be filling in primarily with the fourth string as he continues to develop within the system.
Leading the Charge
As mentioned, Harvey Unga, on the heels of his record-setting freshman campaign, will be a mainstay in the backfield as the Cougars' primary runner. Unga does it all well, from running the football to catching the ball out of the backfield.
While last season wasn't Fui Vakapuna's best, the senior running back showed flashes of his old self this past spring. Vakapuna's return to form is vital for the Cougar backfield, as it will have to make do without assumed starter Manase Tonga due to him being declared academically ineligible.
Vakapuna will have to expand his role as well. While he'll be looked at to spell Unga on occasion, Vakapuna's biggest contribution may come from the fullback slot.
In regards to backup options as primary running backs behind Unga and Vakapuna, it looks to be a battle between Wayne Latu and J.J. DiLuigi. Both players got in some good work this spring and will continue to battle this fall.
Latu's running ability has never been in question. He has good instincts and great burst through the line. Once Latu can prove to be sound in his route running and blocking assignments, he'll see his reps increase.
DiLuigi meanwhile did exactly what he needed to during his first full practice session: improve his play with every practice. Indeed, DiLuigi concluded spring with a bang by showing his best stuff in the Blue and White Game, and in the process making fans excited about his prospects - and with good reason.
Isaac Taylor saw the most reps behind Vakapuna at fullback. Taylor is a proven practice player who can fill in and complete assignments. Kelly Bills was set to compete at fullback, but an injury early into the spring session cut his audition short. Bryan Kariya has received raves from the coaching staff this offseason and should be in the mix as well.
True freshman Jerry Bruner will likely make a strong bid to play sooner rather than later, while coaches still await word on Seta Pohahau's eligibility. Both players are exciting prospects and will lead the incoming players this fall at both the running back and fullback positions.
All Eyes On
Our eyes will be squarely on Fui Vakapuna throughout fall practices, and for good reason. Vakapuna's contribution looks to be potentially critical this year due to the absence of Manase Tonga. Vakapuna could go a long way in not only taking weight off of Unga's primary running responsibilities, but in taking most of the reps at fullback.
We'll continue to keep sharp eyes out for DiLuigi and Latu as they continue to battle to be the first option behind Unga and Vakapuna. We'll also be watching for which fullback will emerge as the top option behind assumed starter Vakapuna.
There is still some work to be done in the Cougar backfield this fall, which leads to a lot of anticipation and intrigue. Indeed, the goings-on in the Cougar offensive backfield will be one of the bigger bylines of the fall practice session.