When June Jones took over as head coach at the University of Hawaii six years ago, one of his first vows was to keep players on the islands from heading to the mainland. A year later Jones convinced prep All-America quarterback Timmy Chang of Saint Louis High School in Honolulu to stay home. The rest, as they say, is history.
Chang has thrown for 12,814 yards in his career and needs just 2,218 to break Ty Detmer's NCAA record of 15,031 yards.
The pieces are in place for Chang and the Warriors to have a memorable year. Hawaii returns 13 offensive players who started at least six games from a 9-5 squad that defeated Houston 54-48 in triple overtime in the Hawaii Bowl. The Warriors welcome back a fleet of speedy, top-notch receivers led by senior Chad Owens, who finished second nationally in receptions per game (7.72) a year ago, and sophomore sensation Jason Rivers, who could be the team's next first-round NFL Draft pick at the position.
The key for the Warriors in 2004 will be a young and rebuilt defense that has just three returning starters and must mature in a hurry.
OffenseHawaii began promoting Chang for the Heisman Trophy a year ago. And barring injury, the strong-armed, 6-foot-2 senior will shatter Detmer's record sometime in early October.
"It's going to be an exciting year for [Chang]," Jones said. "I think he'll probably go through it in the fourth or fifth game of the season. I think it's going to be a record that's never going to be broken."
The Warriors, who averaged 488.1 yards per game on offense in '03, return three of their top four backs. The best of the bunch is powerful, 6-1, 266-pound senior West Keliikipi, who had a team-high six rushing touchdowns despite missing the final four games with a knee injury.
You'd be hard-pressed to find a better group of wide receivers in the country than Hawaii's veteran unit, which is led by Owens, who caught 85 passes for 1,134 yards and nine touchdowns. Nate Ilaoa, who missed the '03 season with a knee injury after starring as a freshman a year earlier, returns at right slotback.
Jones believes the Warriors' offensive line, led by sophomore left guard Samson Satele, could be his best unit yet.
DefenseThe Warriors were hit hard by graduation on defense, where only three starters return. The defensive line lost all four starters, including WAC Defensive Player of the Year Travis LaBoy, as well as talented first team All-WAC tackle Isaac Sopoaga, one of the strongest players at the NFL Draft scouting combine.
"We're going to be young in the defensive line but we've got some players," Jones said.
Jones is particularly high on junior defensive end Mel Purcell, who was named WAC Defensive Player of the Week after recording 12 tackles in a game against UTEP.
Junior Ikaika Curnan is the only returning starter at linebacker and will move from the weak side to the middle after leading the Warriors in tackles.
Senior cornerback Abraham Elimimian is one of two returning starters in the secondary.
SpecialistsThe Warriors have two experienced placekickers returning in senior Justin Ayat and sophomore Nolan Miranda, who inherited the job near the end of the season and connected on 3-of-5 field goals and 21-of-22 PATs.
Kurt Milne returns as the punter after averaging 39.7 yards as a freshman and placing 19 kicks inside the 20.
Owens, a freshman All-American in '01 as a return specialist, will once again be Hawaii's primary return man after spending the last two seasons focused on playing slotback.
Final AnalysisFire up the scoreboard. With almost everyone back on an explosive offense that averaged 488.1 yards and 34.7 points a year ago, the Warriors could easily average more than 40 points per game this season. The big question is, will they be able to stop anybody?
Jones believes he has the young talent on defense to step up and surprise people in the WAC this year. Still, there's nothing like game experience to bolster a player's confidence. To that end, the first three games of the season could set the tone for the Warriors.