Hawaii Football: Three Questions For Spring Practice
Timmy Chang’s Warriors showed improvement throughout the 2022 season. What work must be done this spring to prepare for a potential leap forward this fall?
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Year two will demand a lot from the braddahhood.
On Monday, the Hawaii Warriors became the first Mountain West football team to kick off its spring practice schedule. After taking a lot of early lumps in 2022, the young Warriors showed a lot of resolve as the campaign wore on and played in five one-score contests over the last eight games. Though they only won one of those, Timmy Chang’s team demonstrated progress.
Now, though, the expectations will be higher in 2023 and the work to meet them has already begun. What are the most pressing questions that Hawaii will need to address on the practice field this spring?
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How much rapport will the passing game be able to build?
It appears that quarterback Brayden Schager will get plenty of opportunities to continue his run as the starter after a year in the frying pan. His numbers didn’t look pretty on the surface, but statistics from Pro Football Focus show that he had a higher percentage of drops from his receivers, 14%, than any other quarterback in the Mountain West with 100 dropbacks except for Air Force’s Haaziq Daniels.
If he looks like the run-and-shoot’s operator, though, to whom will he throw? Of the eight pass catchers who had at least ten receptions last year, just three are listed on the 2023 spring roster: Jonah Panoke, Jalen Walthall, and Tamatoa Mokiao-Atimalala. Panoke figures to be a major contributor with a presumed return to health — he only played in seven games in 2022 — but there will be plenty of targets to go around. Koali Nishigaya, Chuuky Hines, and Nick Cenacle could carve out bigger roles after playing limited roles, as could Kansas transfer Steven McBride.
Who will stand out in the secondary?
Jacob Yoro’s defensive backfield went through constant shuffling a year ago, to the point that they had the same starting five in back-to-back weeks just twice in 13 games. The hope is less of that will be required next season, but incumbents and newcomers alike will need time to gel.
In the former group, Peter Manuma seems a safe bet to occupy one starting spot at safety after quietly putting together a strong freshman campaign, but will Matagi Thompson get a second chance to re-establish himself after starting the first four games of 2022 before getting knocked out by a season-ending injury? Will Meki Pei be able to build off of starting four games himself, including the last two? At cornerback, Virdel Edwards’s return makes that situation a little rosier, at least.
Among the latter group, Cam Stone’s arrival from Wyoming via the transfer portal could go a long way if he can get his feet under him this spring. Justin Sinclair could be one to watch, too, after starring in the juco ranks at the College of San Mateo. The biggest competition of all will be at nickelback, where Malik Hausman will need to be replaced one way or another.
How will the offensive line competition stack up?
Hawaii went into 2022 with one of the most experienced lines anywhere in the Mountain West, but that won’t be the case this spring with Ilm Manning, Micah Vanterpool, Stephen Bernal-Wendt, and Austin Hopp all gone. Don’t mistake that with a total dearth of leadership, though: Solo Vaipulu only started three games last year, but he has 43 starts in his collegiate career while Eliki Tanuvasa and Sergio Muasau both return after splitting most of their playing time at center.
Building new depth will probably take center stage, then. Arasi Mose and Maurice Ta’ala combined for only 21 snaps last season, but they’ll have to compete for more with the likes of Josh Atkins, who transferred in from Houston, and seniors Luke Felix-Fualalo and Micah Mariteragi. This, more than the other quandries, may take the most time to sort out.