Hawaii Rainbow Warriors 2016 Preview and Prediction


#121 Hawaii Rainbow Warriors





HEAD COACH: Nick Rolovich, First Season | OFF. COORDINATOR: Brian Smith, Craig Stutzmann | DEF. COORDINATOR: Kevin Lempa

Norm Chow didn't win more than four games in any of his four seasons at Hawaii, so the Rainbow Warriors have turned to one of their own to hopefully lead the program back to contention in the Mountain West. Nick Rolovich broke numerous school records when he was the Rainbow Warriors' quarterback in 2000-01, and one of his biggest tasks in his first season at head coach will to get more out of an offense that was among the nation's worst in 2015.

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Previewing Hawaii’s Offense for 2016

After cycling through six offensive coordinators and three head coaches (including an interim) in the past five seasons, Hawaii has turned to former Rainbow Warrior quarterback Nick Rolovich to resurrect the program’s fortunes.

Fifth-year senior Ikaika Woolsey, who has started 19 games over three seasons, is the only quarterback on the roster who has thrown a Division-I pass. But he will have to beat out redshirt freshman Aaron Zwahlen, who was a highly rated high school recruit out of California before going on a church mission. Sophomore Beau Reilly, another former missionary, is also in the mix.

There is no suspense at running back, where senior Paul Harris, the school’s first 1,000-yard rusher in five seasons, returns. Steven Lakalaka, who has started 14 games over three seasons, and Melvin Davis, a 6'2", 235-pounder, provide battering ram power. If Diocemy Saint Juste can stay healthy, he will offer a potent outside running threat.

Four offensive line starters are back, but there may be some shifting of positions in the wake of the departure of left tackle Ben Clarke, the top performer the last three years. Honorable mention All-Mountain West pick Dejon Allen moves from right guard to left tackle, and Asotui Eli shifts to right guard from center. RJ Hollis remains a fixture at right tackle, and John Wa’a takes over at center.

Nine of the top 10 receivers, including Marcus Kemp, who led the team in catches (36), return. Devan Stubblefield (30 catches), Dylan Collie (29) and Isaiah Bernard (21) are also back. Metuisela Unga and Dakota Torres might be the best tight end tandem Hawaii has had in years.

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Previewing Hawaii’s Defense for 2016

Kevin Lempa, who directed one of the most opportunistic defenses of the June Jones era, returns to Hawaii after a 13-year absence as the defensive coordinator. Lempa, who last season coached defensive backs at Boston College, is bringing back a 4-3 defense and hopes to revitalize a unit that forced just 11 turnovers in 2015.

All-MWC defensive tackle Kennedy Tulimasealii was the Rainbow Warriors’ biggest weapon after recording 18.5 tackles for a loss in 2015. However, he was dismissed from the team in late June due to an off-field incident. If tackles Kory Rasmussen and Samiuela Akoteu rebound from offseason knee and foot injuries, respectively, the front four could be formidable. Jeremy Castro, Makani Kema-Kaleiwahea, David Manoa and Manly Williams make for a strong combination at the ends.

Jahlani Tavai’s move from end to middle linebacker has drawn raves and helps shore up a unit that also counts on Jerrol Garcia-Williams, Dany Mulanga and Rashaan Falemalu.

The return of Trayvon Henderson, a two-year starter who sat out last season due to injury, would be a big plus to a thin secondary. Damien Packer, Daniel Lewis and Dejaun Butler join him as the safeties. 

Related: Athlon's 2016 College Football Rankings: No. 1 to 128

Previewing Hawaii’s Specialists for 2016

Rigoberto Sanchez was one of five players in the nation who handled field goals, punts, extra points and kickoff chores. John Ursua, Keelan Ewaliko and Collie figure to divide up the return work.

Final Analysis

The Rainbow Warriors’ schedule is as travel-intensive as it is ambitious. In the first month, Hawaii will travel nearly 25,000 miles with three of the first four games in Australia (vs. California), Ann Arbor, Mich. (Michigan) and Tucson, Ariz. (Arizona). Overall, in its 13-game regular season, Hawaii will travel approximately 40,000 miles, double most NFL teams. With that kind of challenge, avoiding what would be a school-record sixth consecutive losing season may be too much to ask in Rolovich’s inaugural campaign.