The University of Hawaii football team will hit the field to open the 2019 season next Saturday against Arizona at Aloha Stadium.
One unit that will not need to worry about handling the pressure of playing on a big stage is the offensive line, where UH returns all of the starters on a line that helped hold up for an offense that ranked ninth in college football in passing.
Among the returnees are the blind-side tandem of J.R. Hensley and Ilm Manning.
Hensley, a senior from Oklahoma who dons the number-57, and Manning, a sophomore wearing number-75 out of Arizona have built a strong bond playing side by side for the past year.
“It’s real special, because you need that type of bond, especially when you’re protecting the quarterback’s blind side, and the stronger the bond, the more better we work together, so that’s going to better the offensive line,” Manning told KHON2 Sports Director Rob DeMello.
“Oh, it’s a blast. He has changed so much, and he has adapted, and bettered his game every chance he has got. Last year he had a great season, but this year he’s a different player and it’s very exciting to be next to him. Especially when he’s molded like this and I think the chemistry is there, he’s a great dude,” added Hensley.
HawaiiAthletics.com provided an offensive line positional breakdown in training camp:
An offensive line that helped UH finish ninth nationally in passing comes back entirely intact and is the deepest in years. It’s a mixture of youth and experience with three upperclassmen and two underclassmen projected to start in the trenches. Offensive line coach Mark Weber said: “We still have to settle in, we’re moving people around and seeing the best combination of five that has the best chemistry. It’s a step a forward today-we’ve got two more weeks to see what combination works the best.”
Emil Graves 6-3 320 Sr. 10 GP
J.R. Hensley 6-5 320 Sr. 14 starts
Kohl Levao 6-6 340 Sr. 14 starts
Ernest Moore 6-8 300 Jr. Redshirted
Joey Nu’uanu-Kuhi’iki 6-3 290 Jr. 3 starts
Gene Pryor 6-3 305 Jr. Redshirted
Alesana Sunia 6-3 320 Jr. 13 GP
Taaga Tuulima 6-2 310 Jr. 11 starts
Ramsey Aviu 6-2 310 So. Scout team
Ra Elkington 6-5 340 So. Redshirted
Ilm Manning 6-4 280 So. 14 starts
Solo Vaipulu 6-2 300 So. 14 starts
Micah Vanterpool 6-3 315 So. 9 GP
Elias Wong 6-2 315 Fr. Redshirted
Offensive Line Ht Wt Cl Hometown (Last School)
Michael Eletise 6-3 320 Jr. Honolulu, O’ahu (Arizona)
Eliki Tanuvasa 6-2 285 So. Honolulu, O’ahu (Eastern Illinois)
Caden Hilborn 6-5 285 Fr. Salt Lake City, Utah (Highland HS)
Arasi Mose 6-5 345 Fr. Honolulu, O’ahu (Saint Louis School)
Kauka Umiamaka 6-4 285 Fr. Kāne’ohe, O’ahu (Castle HS)
Bubba Wa’a 6-2 295 Fr. Hau’ula, O’ahu (Crescent Valley HS)
2018 OLs lost: Kaiwi Chung
The Ones To Watch: Junior college transfer Kohl Levao started all 14 games last season and moved from right tackle to center for the final three games of the season. Weber says of the 6-6, 340-pound senior: “Kohl brings a big physical presence, especially when we moved him inside. He’s a physical football player and he brings chemistry to this offensive line. He’s a guy who has personality, he loves football and that’s what he brings to the group.”
Ilm Manning (left tackle) and Solo Vaipulu (right guard) were among just four true freshmen nationally to start every game last year on the offensive line. “Last year it was about getting these guys to the right place, knowing if it’s a run or a pass, left or right. This year they know, it’s much easier to install. Now they can focus more on fundamentals-which they’ve done. They’re development have been tremendous,” said Weber.
Fifth-year player J.R. Hensley returns not only as the elder statesman of the line, but as one of the veteran leaders of the team. “J.R. is a physical guy, he’ll get his hands on you. He knows he’s got great footwork and he’s played a lot of football, so that experience kicks in,” says Weber.
Numbers To Know: The offensive line returns four players that started every game last season.
KnowYourBows: Arizona transfer Michael Eletise is still awaiting word on his playing status for this upcoming season, but no matter when he hits the field, his presence will be felt: “Michael is a physical and talented football player and he has good football sense and IQ… he’s a fast learner. I expect him to really bring even more physicality to this group,” said Weber…redshirt junior Gene Pryor also received high praise from Weber, “Gene didn’t see a lot of playing time last year but he has the potential to contribute to this line. He’s extremely physical. He’s still learning but he plays strong. He’s a wonderful young man that plays hard.”
In the Bloodline: Elias Wong’s father, Hauoli Wong, played for UH and Brigham Young and was a seventh-round draft pick of the Miami Dolphins before playing a season for the Oakland Raiders… Bubba Wa’a is related to former UH offensive lineman John Wa’a (cousin) and defensive back George Perry (uncle)…J.R. Hensley’s older brother, Ty, was drafted out of high school with the 30th overall pick in the 2012 MLB Draft by the New York Yankees.
Fun Fact: Junior tackle Ernest Moore also played basketball at City College of San Francisco with current Rainbow Warrior shooting guard Eddie Stansberry.