‘Bows, beat writer Stephen Tsai return for spring football training camp

Local Sports

The University of Hawaii Rainbow Warrior football team opens spring practice on Tuesday, March 29, with the first of 15 practice sessions mostly on the grass at Cooke Practice Field, while some will be held at the Clarence T.C. Ching Athletics Complex. All practices are open to the public.

The Rainbow Warriors will hold three practices per week across the five-week stretch, culminating in the 2016 Spring Game, to be held Friday, April 29 on the turf field at the Ching Complex. The start time and details about the Spring Game event will be announced at a later date.

The spring session will provide first-year head coach Nick Rolovich his first opportunity to work on the field with the Rainbow Warriors as he and his staff build the 2016 team.

Taking over the head coach role in November after four years as the offensive coordinator at Nevada, Rolovich is joined by a completed staff of defensive coordinator Kevin Lempa, special teams coordinator (tight ends) Mayur Chaudhari, linebackers coach Sean Duggan, secondary coach Abe Elimimian, receivers coach Kefense Hynson, offensive line coach Chris Naeole, running game coordinator (running backs) Brian Smith, passing game coordinator (quarterbacks) Craig Stutzmann and defensive line coach Legi Suiaunoa.

The ‘Bows going back to work for spring training camp also means long-time Star Advertiser and OC Sports UH football beat writer and reporter Stephen Tsai will be right by their side on the turf. Tuesday morning in Manoa will mark Tsai’s first day back covering his beat just two months after undergoing quintuple bypass heart surgery.

Tsai said the process was slow and the future of covering the Rainbow Warriors again were uncertain at times.

“To me, even though they said it was a slight chance of something to go wrong, we felt like you know, you never know,” said Tsai. “It’s kind of strange. I wrote goodbye letters to everybody because I was being dramatic.”

After months of recovery, Tsai will not miss a day of Warrior football and he’s ready to get back in action and cover the team he’s been anxious to see.

“It’s just I want to get back and do stuff, but it’s been a slow struggle but I’m really glad to be back and I’m really glad to see this team,” said Tsai.

With Rolovich taking over the football program and ready to debut his rookie season, Tsai explained he didn’t want to miss this new chapter of development for the team.

“I really wanted to go see how Rolo would develop and everything, you know I followed him for such a long time I just want to be part of it and get back into working,” said Tsai.

Heading into spring football, UH returns 19 starters and 52 lettermen from last year’s squad. On the offensive side of the ball, returning starters include running back Paul Harris, wide receiver Marcus Kemp, wide receiver Devan Stubblefield, wide receiver Isaiah Bernard, slot receiver Dylan Collie, tight end Metuisela ‘Unga, left guard Elijah Tupai, center Asotui Eli, all-Mountain West Honorable Mention right guard Dejon Allen and right tackle RJ Hollis.

Six starters return on the defense, including defensive end Kennedy Tulimasealii, defensive lineman Kory Rasmussen, linebackers Jerrol Garcia-Williams and Jahlani Tavai, safety Daniel Lewis and cornerback Jalen Rogers.

On special teams, UH also returns kicker/punter Rigoberto Sanchez as well as snappers Brodie Nakama and Noah Borden.

The spring will be a battleground at the quarterback position, which will transition to a new style of play under Rolovich, as Ikaika Woolsey returns after five starts a year ago, in addition to the 14 starts across the previous two seasons. Last season, he completed 73-of-149 passes for five touchdowns and 908 yards and has thrown for 3,589 career yards heading into his senior season. Freshman Aaron Zwahlen redshirted last season after taking a two-year church mission and will challenge for the starting role. As a senior at Downey High School in California, Zwahlen completed 244-of-379 for 3,852 yards and 49 touchdowns, ranking fifth in the state in yards and second in touchdowns. Redshirt sophomore Beau Reilly will jump into the competition after operating the scout team last season.

A Senior-to-be running back, Harris will highlight a deep corps after rushing for 1,132 yards on 197 carries, becoming the first 1,000-yard UH rusher since 2010 and only the second since 1992. Harris will battle out the depth chart with fellow seniors Steven Lakalaka and Melvin Davis, as well as redshirt junior Ryan Tuiasoa, in addition to the anticipated return of Diocemy Saint Juste.

The Rainbow Warriors will retain the talents of four of the top five receivers from 2016, topped by senior Kemp, who caught 36 passes for 536 yards and two scores last year. Upstart sophomore Stubblefield went for 351 yards and a team-high four touchdowns on 30 receptions. Also back in the mix are sophomore Collie and senior Bernard, who collected 342 and 219 yards, respectively.

The final year is set for one of UH’s most crucial weapons last season, senior utility kicker Sanchez was one of only five kickers nationally to handle all duties. As a junior, punted 74 times for 3,335 yards, the second-most season punt yards and fifth-most punts on record at UH, with the fourth-best UH season average on record (45.1 YPP), ranking second in the Mountain West and ninth nationally. As a field goal kicker, he converted 8-of-11 attempts, including two from 47 yards and a long of 50 to earn all-Mountain West Honorable Mention.

Senior defensive end and all-Mountain West first-teamer Tulimasealii will lead a defense that will look to fill some holes in the spring and fall. He collected 63 total tackles and led the team and MW with 18.5 tackles for loss, tying for the seventh-most stops behind the line in the NCAA. The linebacker corps loses two starters but retains the services of middle linebacker Garcia-Williams (89 total tackles) and outside ‘backer Tavai (56 total tackles). The secondary will lose two starters, but will enter spring with Rogers (40 total tackles, five breakups) and Lewis (47 total tackles, three breakups) leading the way, pushed for playing time by senior Jamal Mayo and an array of defensive backs coming off redshirt seasons.

The spring will also see the return of some Rainbow Warrior contributors returning to action after missing all or significant portions of last year on season-ending injuries. Safety Trayvon Henderson, running back Saint Juste and linebacker Jeremy Castro are expected to return after injury rehab and off-season conditioning.

The Rainbow Warriors officially open the 2016 season as the first college football game on the slate, meeting the Cal Bears on August 27 in Sydney Australia at ANZ Stadium.Spring Practice Dates

Tuesday, March 29                   7:00 a.m.

Thursday, March 31                  7:00 a.m.

Saturday, April 2                      9:00 a.m.

Tuesday, April 5                       7:00 a.m.

Thursday, April 7                      7:00 a.m.

Saturday, April 9                      9:00 a.m.

Tuesday, April 12                     7:00 a.m.

Thursday, April 14                    7:00 a.m.

Saturday, April 16                    9:00 a.m.

Tuesday, April 19                     7:00 a.m.

Thursday, April 21                    7:00 a.m.

Saturday, April 23                    11:00 a.m. – Junior Day

Tuesday, April 26                     7:00 a.m.

Thursday, April 28                    7:00 a.m.

Friday, April 29  Spring Game    TBD

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