Rainbow Warriors secondary features talented, versatile pieces in 2021

Sports

April 15, 2021. HONOLULU, Hi. NCAA Football: Hawaii practice.

UH was among the top teams in the nation last year in pass defense and led the entire Mountain West in takeaways. Much of that was due to its ball-hawking secondary. The great news is that secondary remains virtually intact – while also bringing in a number of hungry and talented newcomers.

So what’s to improve on? According to defensive backs coach Trent Figg, tackling has been a key area of emphasis in camp with the secondary serving as the last line of defense. “We have to eliminate the big-play runs,” Figg says. “We gotta do a better job of tackling in the open field. It’s been a source of pride in practice and we’ve been drilling it. If you can’t tackle, then you’re in trouble in the Mountain West.”

If the teams improves it tackling and continues to be vertically sound in coverage, expect another year of big plays from the UH defensive backs.

Returnees

Secondary Ht WtCl  2020 Stats
 Cortez Davis (CB) 5-11180 Sr. 30 tkls,4.0 TFLs, 1 PBU
 Eugene Ford (S) 6-2210 Sr. 2 INT, 5 tkls
 Quentin Frazier (S) 6-1195 Sr. 48 tkls, 7.0 TFLs,  2 INT
 Khoury Bethley (S) 5-10200 Jr. 70 tkls, 9.0 TFL, 6 PBUs 
 Donovan Dalton (S) 6-4200 Jr. 19 tkls, 1 INT, 5 PBUs
 Leonard Lee (S) 6-0190 Jr. Scout Team
 Jalen Perdue (CB) 5-10175 Jr. Sidelined, 1 GP
 Kai Kaneshiro (CB/S) 6-2180 So. 31 tkls, 1 TFL
 Kalamaku Kuewa (S) 6-0200 So. 2 GP
 Cameron Lockridge (CB) 6-0180 So. 39 tkls, 1 INT, 2 PBUs
 Von Killins (CB) 6-0175 R-Fr. Sidelined
 Tiger Peterson (S) 6-1195 R-Fr. 2 GP
 Michael Washington (CB) 6-0165 R-Fr. 13 tkls, 2 INT, 3 PBUs
 Nalu Emerson (S) 6-1205 Fr. 7 GP
 Asher Pilanca (CB) 6-0175 Fr. Scout team

2020 defensive backs lostAkil FranciscoAlaka’i MashimaSterlin Ortiz

Newcomers

SecondaryHt WtClHometown (Last School)
 Chima Azunna (S) 6-0200 Sr. Grand Prairie, Texas (Iowa State)
 Colby Burton (CB) 5-10185 Sr. Houston, Texas (McNeese State)
 Hugh Nelson II (CB/S) 6-2205 So. Powder Springs, Ga. (Georgia)
 Ty Marsh (CB) 5-11180 Fr. Dallas, Texas (Denton Ryan HS)
 Harvey Welch (S) 5-9185 Fr. Kahuku, O’ahu (Saint Louis School)

Cortez Island: Senior cornerback Cortez Davis is a legitimate shut-down corner. The native of Decatur, Ga., enters his third season with the Rainbow Warriors after earning all-conference accolades in each of his first two years. He has started 21 of 23 career games at UH, often matching up with the opposing team’s top threat. This preseason he was one of just 40 players selected to the watch list for the Jim Thorpe Award, which annually recognizes college football’s outstanding defensive back.

“Cortez is a very talented player,” Figg says. “What you see is what you get with him. We’re expecting big, big things from him. We expect him to be a lockdown guy.”

Cornerback Battle: UH has a vast pool of players to line opposite Davis. Cameron Lockridge started four games last year at the spot, while Michael Washington started the final six. Veteran Kai Kaneshiro who has started 13 games over the last two seasons at nickleback and safety, is getting reps at both cornerback and safety. That’s also the case for newcomer Hugh Nelson II, a long and rangy athlete who comes to Hawai’i after three seasons at the University of Georgia.

Leader of the Pack: No one can question the productivity of Khoury Bethley who has accumulated 193 tackles, 11 tackles-for-loss one and 13 passes defended in 38 career games. What’s also undeniable is his leadership. One of four team captains last year, he was chosen as the player to “break the rock” at the conclusion of summer workouts. “He’s a guy who’s really stepped up as a leader, not just in the secondary but for the entire defense,” Figg says.

Welcome Back: Another big-time leader who resides in the secondary is Eugene Ford. Ford started last year strong with two interceptions in UH’s win at Fresno State, only to suffer a season-ending injury the very next game at Wyoming. The fifth-year senior is not only back, but back right where he left off.

“Eugene took his rehab as serious as I’ve seen anyone take their rehab,” Figg says. “He got his final clearance before camp so he hasn’t had any restrictions. He’s doing a great job. Just an awesome kid.”

Mr. Dependable: Graduate transfer Quentin Frazier was an impact player last year for the Rainbow Warriors, starting all nine games while playing the hybrid linebacker/safety position. He finished third on the team in tackles and tackles-for-loss, while also snagging a pair of interceptions. “He’s gonna play where ever we need him on the field,” Figg says. “He’s very dependable.”

A Cyclone Lands In Hawai’i: Iowa State transfer Chimma Azunna will factor heavily in the UH secondary this year at safety. The graduate transfer played in 33 games for the Cyclones and was part of the winningest class in program history. “He’s just a natural football player,” Figg says. “He’s done a great job of being hungry and humble and letting his work speak for itself. He’s going to be big asset for us on the field.”

Watch Out For…: After a career as a reserve defensive back and special teams stud, Donovan Dalton is poised for a breakthrough season. “Donovan’s had a great camp at free safety,” Figg says. “He works his butt off every day. He’s got a great attitude and has really stepped up.”

True freshman Ty Marsh (CB), who earned Defensive Player of the Year honors from the Dallas Morning News as a high school senior, and Michael Graham (S), the son of head coach Todd Graham, are young guys to look out for in the coming years.

Coaches Notes: Thirteen-year coaching veteran Trent Figg returns to the field as not only the defensive backs coach, but also the associate head coach for the defense. In his first year at UH in 2020, Figg served as the program’s Chief of Staff.   

Figg’s Last Say: “At the end of the day we’re accountable for everything. We adjust a lot of things defensibly out of our secondary, so they have to be smart and they have to communicate. These guys are the QBs of the defense.”

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