Musings from Manoa: UH seniors deserve winning sendoff

HONOLULU — No matter what fans think about the three-year performance of University of Hawaii football coach Norm Chow, nobody can rightfully describe his Rainbow Warriors as “quitters.”

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HONOLULU — No matter what fans think about the three-year performance of University of Hawaii football coach Norm Chow, nobody can rightfully describe his Rainbow Warriors as “quitters.”

Through 28 mostly agonizing and sometimes excruciating defeats, Chow’s players have notably fought hard to the end. It would have been easy for them to throw in the towel sometimes, either when down by five touchdowns or mired in a losing slump of four, five or more games.

By this time of year, even earlier, there has been no championship to chase after, no bowl invitation to look forward to, no winning record to contend for. (Although UH is mathematically still eligible for a share of this year’s Mountain West Conference Western Division title)

But through it all — the constant criticism, whining and insults from unsatisfied “fans” and media, the weight of a school-record road losing streak, the growing pressure to save their coaches’ jobs — the Rainbow Warriors have continued to put in the work and play their hardest, win or lose, at home or on the road.

They’ve played hurt, played through the boos, played for pride.

On Saturday, 20 UH seniors will suit up for the last time on Hawaiian Airlines Field at Aloha Stadium in the home finale vs. Nevada-Las Vegas. Sixteen of them will earn their bachelor’s degree next month, and three more will don the cap and gown in May. One already graduated.

That’s a testament to their hard work in the classroom.

Unfortunately, they do not have as much to show for their effort on the field — just seven victories in the past 35 games.

But they can hang their hat on being the ones to end the three-year, 17-game school-record road losing streak, after last Saturday’s 13-0 victory at San Jose State. And they still have a chance to finish 4-4 in Mountain West Conference play, after going a combined 1-16 the previous two seasons. If the stars align, they may even have a chance to contend for a share of the Western Division title.

This Saturday, the fans have one final opportunity to show appreciation and recognition for those 20 seniors who have been through so much in trying to bring pride to the school and state.

As he says in a school promotional ad, senior defensive end Beau Yap had a scholarship offer from Baylor during his senior year at Kamehameha. Ultimately, he turned down that offer to play for Hawaii, even today calling it “the best decision I made in my life” despite Baylor since having had a Heisman Trophy winner (Robert Griffin III), a 37-11 record, four straight bowl invitations and a current No. 6 ranking in the AP Top 25 poll.

Yap earned second-team All-Mountain West Conference honors last season and is a strong candidate for first-team recognition this season.

Another senior, Scott Harding, emerged as perhaps the most versatile player in the country. He is one of 10 semifinalists for the Ray Guy Award — recognizing the nation’s top punter — is a sure-handed punt returner and also is the Rainbow Warriors’ most reliable receivers.

If not for Harding’s unique ability to pin opponents deep in their own territory with his consistent, unreturnable punts, UH would not have been able to stay in many games as long as they have.

Other seniors such as defensive linemen Moses Samia and Marcus Malepeai, center Kody Afusia, running back Joey Iosefa, cornerback Dee Maggitt, kicker Tyler Hadden, linebacker Tevita Lataimua, offensive linemen Sean Shigematsu, David Lefotu and Frank Lloyd Jr., have fought through injuries and been key starters or contributors throughout their careers. Taz Stevenson earned his degree from Washington but returned home to UH for his final year of eligibility, making a huge impact as a starting safety.

Then there are quarterbacks Taylor Graham and Jeremy Higgins, who transferred to UH from Ohio State and Utah State, respectively, only to get brief playing time with four starts total between them. Despite that, and season-ending injuries this year, they never grumbled publicly and proved to be good team players while on the sidelines.

It is a testament not only to all the seniors but also to Chow, that to a man, each of them never gave up and kept plugging and representing the team well on and off the field. The one exception was Iosefa, who was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol on Oct. 12, just hours after the Rainbow Warriors defeated Wyoming. He pleaded no contest on Nov. 4, after serving a three-game suspension and being stripped of his title as co-captain.

But even at that, Chow said he met with Iosefa two days after the arrest and described the running back as “contrite, embarrassed and remorseful,” and Iosefa stated that he hoped to “regain the trust of coaches, teammates and fans.”

A month later, it appears he has done just that.

It may take a while longer before the fans truly to appreciate this entire senior class, because ultimately — and, unfortunately — the first place they look at is the win column.

Less visible, and less publicized, is the fact that many of these seniors were brought in by a previous coaching regime and had to undergo a drastic team culture change in addition to new systems on offense and defense (twice). They also caught way more than their share of injuries and other bad breaks, including the unexpected death of teammate Willis Wilson on the morning of Senior Night last year.

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There won’t be any winning record for them, most likely no championship, no bowl bid. But if these humble, hard-working and inspiring seniors and their teammates — with the help of a supportive home crowd — can defeat UNLV as expected on Saturday, they can walk off Hawaiian Airlines Field at Aloha Stadium one last time as winners.

And it would be what they deserve.

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