College football: Levao has become the man in middle for Warriors

Of all the Hawaii football team’s moves this season, one of the most impactful was made front and center.

After moving Kohl Levao from right tackle to center, the Rainbow Warriors won the final two games of the regular season — 35-28 against UNLV and 31-30 against San Diego State. Levao will start at center in the Dec. 22 SoFi Hawaii Bowl at Aloha Stadium.

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“He’s doing a good job making the calls,” offensive line coach Mark Weber said. “We’re 2-0 with him at center.”

Listed at 6 feet 6 and 340 pounds, Levao is the biggest player to start at center since the Warriors first implemented the run-and-shoot system in 1999.

Weber said Levao has helped create mismatches.

“He’s got a good center of gravity,” Weber said. “He’s a load in the middle. When (defenders) twist, when they move, he can get anchor. He can get push.”

Levao also works well in tandem with left guard J.R. Hensley and right guard Solo Vaipulu.

“Our two guards are 300-plus (pounds),” Weber said. “So that’s 600, almost 700 pounds, if we get a combo inside.”

Soon after transferring from City College of San Francisco this summer, Levao seized the right tackle’s job. Even at his size, he displayed agility and ferocity. He often was used as a pulling tackle.

But Levao had never been entrenched at one position in the trenches. “I’ve been bouncing around positions ever since I started playing football,” Levao said. “I’m lucky enough to be blessed with the versatility to play all positions on the line. I’m putting it to full use.”

Weber said Levao was viewed early as a potential UH center.

“The center position takes a real smart guy and an athletic guy,” Weber said. “He’s extremely smart football-wise. He’s athletic for a guy his size. You’ve got to have good football sense and confidence, because you have to run the show. You’re the captain. He’s got that. From day one when he came in, he was a leader. The guys followed him. He’s got all the qualities to be a center.”

Weber noted that before Levao could move, a replacement at right tackle needed to be ready. It was decided after the Utah State game — the Warriors’ fourth loss in a row — that Joey Nu’uanu-Kuhi’iki, who moved from the defensive line in the spring, was set to play right tackle. The bye between the Utah State and UNLV games gave Levao and Nu’uanu-Kuhi’iki additional practice reps at their new positions.

“It made it so the best five were in there,” Weber said.

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In his two starts at center, there were a few shotgun snaps that were below the strike zone to quarterbacks Cole McDonald and Chevan Cordeiro. Weber said more reps will provide consistent accuracy. Levao makes the blocking calls and often voices the cadences. The Warriors are averaging 463.5 yards per game when Levao is the center.

“It’s the little stuff I have to brush up on,” Levao said. “As long as my teammates keep helping me, it should be all good.”