On Tuesday morning, the Rainbow Warriors strapped on their pads for the first time since the SoFi Hawaiʻi Bowl on Dec. 22, 2018. It was the first chance for the team to hit in 101 days.
“Everybody was excited,” junior defensive back Eugene Ford said. “This is a physical sport. You know what you signed up for. It was exciting to put the pads on. It’s good to get that feeling back.”
Ford and the rest of the defense, led by defensive coordinator Corey Batoon, took the field an hour before practice to work on formations and positioning.
“(The effort and dedication) have been good. They understand what the expectations are,” Batoon said. “That’s just how we work, how we practice. Its about getting out early and getting the extra work in that you need. It’s a team effort. We have to spend some extra time out here pre-practice to get a deeper understanding of what we’re doing. That’s what it takes to be great.”
At 7 a.m., practice opened with team stretches, followed by positional drills. The drills yielded some big hits throughout practice, including a big collision between junior receiver Grey Ihu and redshirt sophomore linebacker Paul Scott.
“We want to base our defense on big hits,” junior linebacker Jeremiah Pritchard said. “We want to have a good run-stuffing defense, and have that ‘dog’ defense where teams don’t want to run the ball on us.”
Pritchard is one of several returning linebackers and has the tough assignment of replacing Jahlani Tavai. Tavai, who will be graduating this spring and heading for the NFL draft, finished his career ranked second all-time at UH in tackles with 391.
“I feel like we’re going to be alright,” Pritchard said. “We all learned a lot from him. It’s big shoes to fill, but I don’t think it’s impossible. We’ve got Penei (Pavihi), Kanaʻi (Picanco), Solomon (Matautia) and myself. We’ve got all these guys back with the linebacker group and I feel like we can get the job done.”
The defensive players weren’t the only ones looking forward to hitting.
The offense worked on running plays against live rushers for the first time this offseason. The O-line was able to open some big holes for the running backs to run through, with junior Fred Holly III and sophomore Miles Reed both taking the ball for long touchdown runs in simulated run plays. Senior running backs Dayton Furuta and KK Padello both ran hard, fighting through contact and refusing to go down against the defense.
“It felt fantastic (to get back to hitting),” senior offensive lineman J.R. Hensley said. “Our running backs are doing a great job. Spring ball’s a chance for all of us to cut loose and have some fun.”
Hensley leads an offensive line that returns all five starters, including senior Kohl Levao, junior Taaga Tuulima, and sophomores Ilm Manning and Solo Vaipalu. The team also returns redshirt junior Joey Nuʻuanu-Kuhiʻiki, who started three games last season at right tackle. Other returning offensive linemen with game experience include redshirt senior Emil Graves and junior Gene Pryor.
“It’s exciting,” Hensley said. “I’ve never been a part of a group with all five starters returning. We’ve got so much chemistry together. I think a year and an offseason together does us wonders and I’m excited to see what these guys can put on film for this upcoming season. Our second and third string guys can play. This is the first time we’ve had some serious depth at the O-line position in years.”
The quarterback competition continues to be one to keep an eye on. Redshirt junior Cole McDonald continued to get the majority of the reps with the first team. In 7-on-7 drills, McDonald completed 12 of 21 passes against the first team defense. Redshirt freshman Chevan Cordeiro, leading the second team offense, completed 6 of 8 passes.
The team also got a look at sophomore quarterback Justin Uahinui, who completed 5 of 7 passes with one interception. The lone pick occurred when the ball was ripped out of the receiver’s hands. Cordeiro and Uahini both got some work in against the second team defense as well.
The ‘Bows return for day four of spring practice on Thursday at 7 a.m. All practices are open to the public.