Nick Rolovich had quite the debut as Hawaii’s head coach, leading his alma matter to its first bowl game since 2010. The goal for 2017 is to finish above .500 and he has most of his offense returning. The defense is undergoing another coordinator change, but there are some players for the new guy to lean on. The schedule sets up nicely, so as long as the key players can stay healthy and the defense shows at least a little improvement, Year 2 could be just as successful as Year 1 for Hawaii under Rolovich.
Previewing Hawaii Football’s Offense for 2017
It’s an occurrence that’s almost as rare as snow in Hawaii, but the Rainbow Warriors know who their starting quarterback will be: Dru Brown. That’s progress for a program that has dealt with an unsettled quarterback position for the last five years. Brown, who showed up last summer as a late junior college transfer, won the job five games into the season and directed UH to its first non-losing finish and bowl game since 2010. Now a junior, Brown owns the job, and the playbook will be opened wider for him.
Keeping running back Diocemy Saint Juste healthy paid big dividends for Hawaii in a 1,006-yard campaign in which he averaged 6.1 yards per carry. Part of the solution was employing Steven Lakalaka, who averaged just 30 yards per game but blasted his way for 13 touchdowns, on short-yardage situations, a role that must now be recast. Mel Davis (returning from injury), Ryan Tuiasoa and freshman Freddie Holly III will audition for the part.
Slot backs John Ursua and Dylan Collie are primed for productive seasons, while wide receivers Ammon Barker and Keelan Ewaliko will be counted on to take up the slack following the departure of Marcus Kemp, the team’s top receiver. Metuisela ’Unga began his long-awaited emergence at tight end late last season and will be counted on to fill an expanding role.
The offensive line will be in experienced hands with Dejon Allen, a second-team All-MW pick, at left tackle and the return of Hawaii Bowl starting guards John Wa’a and J. R. Hensley. Asotui Eli, who started over parts of two seasons, returns to center. The Warriors also will add Fred Ulu-Perry, who missed spring practice due to a medical condition. He sat out last season after transferring from UCLA.
Previewing Hawaii Football’s Defense for 2017
Athlon Sports’ National College Football magazine delivers full team previews, schedules, scouting reports, conference predictions, national rankings, as well as complete 2017 coverage for all 130 teams. Click here to buy your copy today or visit your local newsstand!
One constant with the defense has been change, and this season it comes in the form of Legi Suiaunoa, who is the fifth coach to hold the defensive coordinator position in as many years. The expectation is that at least with Suiaunoa, who was the defensive line coach last season and plans to retain the 4-3 base defense, the transition will be smooth.
Defensive end Jamie Tago - a former top recruit - is not expected to return to the team after a spring suspension for a violation of team rules. Meffy Koloamatangi, David Manoa, Viane Moala and Penitito Faalologo anchor the defensive line, while Jahlani Tavai is the standout at linebacker.
Trayvon Henderson and Daniel Lewis provide security at safety, but cornerback is still a position under construction with Rojesterman Farris II and Zach Wilson the likely starters.
Previewing Hawaii Football’s Specialists for 2017
The one thing Hawaii had been able to count on the last four years has been an exceptional kicking game. But the departure of Rigo Sanchez, who handled punting, placekicking and kickoffs, leaves an air of uncertainty. Australian punter Stan Gaudion and placekicker Alex Trifonovitch were the only candidates on the roster in the spring, and the ’Bows were looking for a late-summer pickup.
Now that Hawaii has broken a five-year string of losing seasons, the expectation for Year 2 of Nick Rolovich’s tenure is for the Rainbow Warriors to capture their first winning season since 2010. The target is reachable thanks to a less arduous schedule — Hawaii traveled more than 46,000 miles in 2016, double most NFL teams — and a strong returning core on offense. But the Warriors will have to shore up a defense that yielded an average of 37.3 points per game and reduce an overall propensity for penalties, an area where they ranked 127th in the nation, to make the climb.
National Ranking: 88
MW West Prediction: 2
(Dru Brown photo courtesy of University Hawai'i Athletics)