Hawaii Warriors preview

With the personnel losses during the offseason for the Warriors on both sides of the ball, Hawaii fans should be thankful that their team, unlike the Trojans, still puts each player's name across the back of his jersey. The Warriors return nine starters to their team (tied for fifth fewest in the country and as many as the Trojans have back on offense).

The always potent Warrior offense enters the 2005 season after losing just about anyone who touched the ball in 2004, and the always porous Warrior defense ranked 116th out of 117 teams in the country last season. But with fall fast approaching and the promise of a new college football season, hope springs eternal for the Warriors and their fans. Hawaii's Run-and-Shoot, and Shoot and Shoot and Shoot some more offense is always exciting to watch and difficult to defend. They are always capable of scoring points and will provide a test to the overhauled Trojan defense. On the other side of the ball, former NFL head coach Jerry Glanville was brought in to coach a defense with nowhere to go but up. His energy and promise for improvement has Warrior fans thinking their team could start the season 1-0 after dethroning the National Champs. Then again, they get a lot of sun on the island.

Warriors on Offense

Quarterback – #6 Tyler Graunke

After beating out junior college transfer Colt Brennan, redshirt freshman Tyler Graunke gets the honor of replacing Timmy Chang, the NCAA career leader in passing yards. Heading into the game against the Trojans, Graunke has exactly zero career pass attempts to his credit, after sitting out all of 2004 while recovering from an injury to his collarbone. Hawaii's quarterback competition during spring and fall practices closely resembled that of the Trojans prior to the 2003 season. With no real leader, Graunke emerged from a pack of six quarterbacks to grab the starting job. He is very athletic, has an above average arm and should excel, as most quarterbacks do, in June Jones' offensive system. The questions about Tyler Graunke lie in his poise and leadership. In recent history, quarterbacks making their first collegiate start against the Trojans have fared about as well as the prime rib in a buffet line. Graunke should be excited to get his first start, but it could quickly turn into a long day for the young quarterback.

Running back – #3 Bryan Maneafaiga and #34 Kala Latuselu

In 2004, starting running backs Michael Brewster and West Keliikipi combined for 1,058 yards and 13 touchdowns for the Warriors. Heading into 2005, they will be replaced by Bryan Maneafaiga and Kala Latuselu, who combined for 11 carries for 48 yards and two touchdowns. Although the Warriors seem to occasionally abandon the run, a solid ground game can seriously boost their offensive proficiency. Latuselu is the bigger of the backs and should see the majority of the inside handoffs, while Maneafaiga, at only 5'8", will try to spring loose out of the backfield as another weapon in the passing game. These two will also be responsible for picking up Trojan blitzes, as the Warriors' four wide receiver sets leave the quarterback with little protection.

Wide Receivers – #82 Ross Dickerson, #2 Jason Ferguson, #81 Ian Sample, #4 Nate Ilaoa

The Warriors lost 344 of 370 receptions during the offseason, including their top seven pass catchers from 2004. All four starters are gone, but none will be missed more than Chad Owens. He was an absolute force for the Warriors in 2004, catching 102 passes for 1,290 yards and 17 touchdowns and providing Hawaii with the best special teams kick and punt returner not named Reggie Bush. His production will not be replaced by one person. Of the wideouts lining up in 2005, Ross Dickerson, Jason Ferguson and Ian Sample caught passes last season. Dickerson had 15 receptions for 143 yards (one less than Dwayne Jarrett had against Arizona) and one touchdown in 2004, while Sample caught seven for 71 yards and Ferguson grabbed two passed for 60 yards. None of the four receivers present height match up problems for the Trojan defensive backs as Dickerson's 5'11" frame is the biggest of the bunch. The Trojan secondary will need their fresh legs, however, as they'll be tested again and again by the speedy Warrior receiving corps. John Walker, as the Trojans' nickel back, should get plenty of playing time as Pete Carroll will find ways to defense Hawaii's four and five wide receiver sets.

Offensive Line – #70 LT Tala Esera, #64 LG Samson Satele, #59 C Derek Faavi, #66 RG Brandon Eaton, #72 RT Dane Uperesa

The Warriors have four starters returning on offense and all of them can be found along the offensive line. Left tackle Tala Esera, after earning All-WAC honors in 2004, returns to the Warriors and will protect quarterback Tyler Graunke's blind side. Left guard Samson Satele is the best of the group. He was named to both the Freshman All-American and All-WAC squads last season after starting all 13 games, eight at left guard and five at center, and finishing the season with a team-best 41 knockdowns and just three sacks allowed in 636 pass attempts. The new Trojan defensive tackles will have their hands full going against Satele. Derek Faavi has anchored the line from the center position for the past two seasons. Although he missed five games in 2004 due to injury, Faavi was elected a team captain for the upcoming season. Brandon Eaton will shift over from his right tackle spot to right guard for this season. Eaton started all 13 games last season and finished second on the line with 34 knockdowns. Dane Uperesa is the new starter along the line, although he saw action in 11 games last season as a reserve. His play against the Trojan defensive ends will dictate the success of the Warrior attack. All told, the line isn't massive (Uperesa is the only one over 300 pounds), but they are strong and quick. The Trojan defensive line has consistently dominated throughout Pete Carroll's tenure, and while much has been made of the departures of Shaun Cody and Mike Patterson, this will be the first opportunity for the new Trojan line to prove they are still more than capable of controlling a game.

Warriors on Defense

Defensive Line – #1 Kila Kamakawiwo'ole, #98 Melila Purcell, #97 Renolds Fruean, #91 Ikaika Alama-Francis

Melila Purcell is the dominant presence along the Warrior defensive line. In 2004, he led the team in sacks (6) and tackles for loss (15.5) and finished third on the team in tackles (74). He was selected to the All-WAC team at defensive end but will move to defensive tackle in 2005. It will be interesting to see if he can be as effective at this new position. Kila Kamakawiwo'ole finished the season with three sacks from his defensive end position and will again line up there this season. Renolds Fruean will start at defensive tackle in 2005. Fruean sat out the 2004 season after transferring from Washington State. Ikaika Alama-Francis, a converted basketball player who stands 6'6", rounds out the line. There is a drive to improve the Warrior defense this season, but if it is to get better, the intensity must start with this group along the defensive line. If the Trojan offensive line can comfortably handle the Warrior front, Matt Leinart and crew should have no problem scoring at will and providing the Hawaii defense with some nightmare flashbacks.

Linebackers – #45 Tanuvasa Moe, #51 Ikaika Curnan, #43 Brad Kalikimoku

Tanuvasa Moe and Ikaika Curnan are returning starters for the Warrior linebacking corps. Injuries took their toll on both players as Moe missed four games with a hamstring injury and Curnan's ankle injury forced him to miss three. Curnan is the leader of the linebackers and plays the game with a lot of emotion. As a true freshman in 2004, Brad Kalikimoku was forced into duty because of the injuries sustained by his fellow linebackers. His experience should help him this season as he'll be counted on to help shore up the Warrior defense. None of the linebackers will wow you physically, but they play hard and are aggressive. Of course, it takes much more than that to contain Reggie Bush and LenDale White for 60 minutes.

Cornerbacks – #9 Ryan Keomaka, #35 Keao Monteilh

Heading into fall practice, this wasn't the cornerback tandem that Hawaii expected to send out there to face the Trojan passing attack. Ryan Keomaka and Keao Monteilh, both sophomores, earned the starting spots during fall practice over more seasoned players. Although Kenny Patton and Turmarian Moreland should still see playing time, it's Keomaka and Monteilh that will have first cracks at the Trojan receivers. They both stand under six feet and will have their hands full with the much taller Trojan pass catchers.

Safeties – #42 Leonard Peters, #15 Lono Manners

Leonard Peters is the defensive standout for the Warriors. He led the team with 120 tackles in 2004 and is the unquestioned leader of the defensive backfield. He is a hard worker, smart and very fast. Making tackles won't be enough to keep his team in the game, however, as he'll need to help force the Trojans into multiple turnovers to give the Warriors a chance. Lono Manners joins him at safety after missing six games during 2004 with a foot injury. These two will look to get Matt Leinart's repeat Heisman campaign off to a rocky start.

Warriors' Special Teams

Kicker – #99 Dan Kelley

Dan Kelley will fill the void left by Justin Ayat's graduation. Kelley has never kicked in a collegiate game, but in all probability, field goals and extra points won't have a huge impact this Saturday.

Punter – #25 Kurt Milne

Kurt Milne returns to the Warriors after posting a 39.9 yard average on 63 punts in 2004. He pinned 19 punts inside the 20-yard line and will handle punting duties in 2005. On Saturday, Milne will do everything he can to keep the ball out of the hands of a white jersey wearing #5.

Kick Returner – #5 Michael Washington, #3 Bryan Maneafaiga

A true freshman, Michael Washington earned a spot as a kick returner for the Warriors in 2005. Both he and Bryan Maneafaiga are speedy playmakers who can do damage with the ball in their hands.

Punt Returner – #2 Jason Ferguson

The departure of Chad Owens not only left a void at the wide receiver position, but it left the Warriors without a proven punt returner. Jason Ferguson was the team's leading kickoff return man in 2004 and will try to transition his talents to the punt team.

Simply put, it would be harder for the Warriors to have more going against them as they head into their 2005 season opener. Not one starting skill position player returns for the offense, the defense is in a state of complete transition and they welcome the back-to-back defending National Champion USC Trojans. This will be a great test for the Trojans as the new starters and incoming freshman will get a chance to see what it's like to play football in a tough environment against a team with nothing to lose. The Trojans and their fans have waited a long time for this. But come Saturday, after eight months of silence, it's time for the Trojans to suit up, march into Aloha Stadium, and Fight On.

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