Also in today's Honolulu Advertiser is an article on Samoan Running Backs Nate Ilaoa and Reagan Mauia. Ilaoa is petitioning to get a medical redshirt from the NCAA. Mauia meanwhile has cut his weight down dramatically from his initial days as a nose guard and is now a blocking fullback.
Rivers catching on
UH's Jason Rivers says he's motivated to get back on the field
JASON Rivers isn't among the 115 football players officially in camp for Hawaii spring football drills scheduled to start today at the Manoa campus. He hopes to be there soon.
But he's enrolled at UH, and he's attending classes.
As far as the junior wide receiver from Saint Louis School and Waipahu is concerned, that's a good start.
"I have a financial obligation (with UH) to take care of, and then I'll be cleared to practice," said Rivers, who is no longer on scholarship. "I'm hoping that will be done in time for the second week of spring practice."
At the end of the 2004 season, Rivers was poised to become UH's top receiver.
Chad Owens, the program's career receptions leader, had just completed his eligibility. Rivers, who caught 80 passes that year as a sophomore -- including 11 for 148 yards and a touchdown in the Hawaii Bowl, his last game -- was expected to become the No. 1 target for whoever took over for record-setting quarterback Tim Chang. After just two seasons, Rivers was already 14th on UH's career receiving-yards list.
But while he developed his talent on the football field, Rivers simply stopped going to classes.
"If you don't have the motivation to do the work, then it's not going to get done," he said.
The academic negligence caught up with him, and he was suspended from school. Then, Rivers severely injured his right ankle in a mo-ped accident.
He took classes at a community college to get back on track, and underwent surgery on the ankle. Then Rivers took last semester off to contemplate his future.
"That gave me a lot of time to think about what I really wanted in life. College is not for everybody. If you can do it and you want to do it, that's the whole key. You have to want to do it," he said at an informal workout with other UH players last week.
He decided to try to get back on the team, and coach June Jones gave him a second chance.
Now it's up to Rivers to make the most of it. Receivers coach Ron Lee said absence from the first week of spring drills isn't a good start on the comeback trail.
"Missing part of spring is definitely hurting him. He's been out a year and we don't know where he's at. It's awfully competitive at X and Z (the wide receiver positions). I hope he hasn't lost a step," Lee said. "I think he's motivated. But the situation is a lot different than it was when he came in. He was an exceptional player as a young guy, but we didn't miss him last year. He has to show us."
It's a crowded depth chart on both sides, with returning starters Chad Mock and Ross Dickerson being pushed by Mike Washington, Dylan Linkner, Ian Sample and others.
"I'm probably at the bottom," Rivers said. "But that's not really one of my concerns now. Someone coming back knows they have to work hard to get back to where they were before. I'm mostly concerned about my ankle, rehabbing it, getting it stronger. As far as the depth chart is concerned, (missing the first week) might not help me. The most important thing is I'm ready for fall."
Now, he goes to every class and said he enjoys it.
"It feels better than it ever felt. I have an appreciation now for what I got. In the past I might have taken it nonchalantly, just going through the motions. Now that I'm back and working for it I'm a lot more appreciative for it," Rivers said.
"It's a trip. You go to class and everything's smooth and nice and easy. You wonder why you couldn't do it before."
Thousands of college students don't make it academically every year for a variety of reasons. Rivers said he doesn't think it is unfair that the scholastic misfortunes of student-athletes often become public knowledge.
"Some of us see that in a negative way. But (school) is the most positive thing that we do have as student-athletes. Coaches emphasize it. We have tutors, we have all the help we need," Rivers said.
"We're not here to play football. We're here to get an education. Football is secondary. Even after college, if you're fortunate enough to make it, football's temporary. You have to have something after that.
"School is the true blessing in the whole picture.
UH backs carrying lighter load in '06
By Stephen Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Stephen Tsai
To comprehend the power and strength of the University of Hawai'i football team's top running backs, look at the company they keep.
"They're honorary members of the O-line," said right tackle Dane Uperesa, whose team opens spring practice today. "In our offense, the running backs and linemen essentially do the same thing 90 percent of the time. We block, and they block, only they get to run the ball a few times."
This coming season, Nate Ilaoa and Reagan Mauia are expected to receive even more carries than last year, when the Warriors rushed for 1,103 yards, the most in the seven years of UH's four-wide offense.
The bigger load is a result of both backs carrying smaller loads. Ilaoa, who is 5 feet 9, weighs about 220 — 30 pounds lighter than when he reported to training camp last August. Mauia, a 6-foot converted nose tackle, has lost about 60 pounds since the end of the 2005 season, and now weighs 303.
"They're both big backs," said Mel deLaura, the team's conditioning coach, "but they're in great shape."
During recent team tests, Ilaoa ran 40 yards in 4.65 seconds, the fastest among the running backs. Yesterday, he did 121 sit-ups in two minutes.
Yet, he has maintained his strength, bench-pressing 225 pounds 30 times. His maximum bench-press is 385 pounds. He failed in his attempt at 405.
"I feel a lot better, a lot healthier," Ilaoa said.
He said his weight ballooned last year because he was not cleared to participate in the running program while recovering from a knee injury. He also couldn't do squat — or any other heavy lifting — because of a shoulder injury.
"And you guys still wrote (bleep) about me," Ilaoa said, smiling, to a reporter. "That's OK. I'm just glad to be healthy and working hard."
Ilaoa said he is not worried about his weight nor his petition to the NCAA for a medical hardship that will allow him to play as a sixth-year senior in the fall.
"It should be a sure thing," he said of his appeal. "But you never know. I'll just keep working hard, stay in shape and hope for the best."
Mauia also has benefitted from a positive outlook.
After mulling his options last year, Mauia, who is married and has a son, decided to turn down scholarship offers to transfer from his junior college and join UH as a walk-on.
"I took a big-time risk," he said. "I gambled coming out here. I knew — I prayed — if I worked hard and made some sacrifices, I would be rewarded."
But things deteriorated in the second game, at Michigan State, when he was whistled for personal fouls on consecutive plays. The ESPN announcers chastised Mauia.
"They made me out to be the bad guy," he said. "Sometimes the bad guy really isn't the bad guy. ... They made it worse than what it was. It was an accident. It was a big chaos. I offered my apology to everyone. I apologized to my team, my coaches, my family and friends."
He eventually lost his place on the depth chart at nose tackle, and was assigned to the scout team.
Struggling to pay the rent on their downtown apartment, Mauia and his wife agreed that she and their son should return to the Mainland to live with her parents. "They're doing a lot better there," he said.
Teammates Lawrence Wilson and Fale Laeli offered Mauia a place to stay. "They gave me a roof over my head for a while," Mauia said. "I'm very grateful."
Wilson said: "It's a family thing. Family comes first, and on the football team, everybody is family."
It was on Thanksgiving week, when Jeff Reinebold, who coordinates the scout team, asked Mauia to portray Wisconsin's running back in practices. UH coach June Jones noticed how well Mauia ran, and soon after, Mauia was asked to practice as a running back with the Warriors' offense. In the regular-season finale, Mauia rushed for 56 yards on 10 carries, and provided backfield blocking for quarterback Colt Brennan.
Under Jones' orders, Mauia competed in an intensive off-season conditioning program. He ran and played basketball every day, and cut out rice and Samoan cuisine from his diet.
"I can't wait to get down to where my weight needs to be so I can start eating Samoan food again," Mauia said.
His goal is to weigh about 265 pounds at the start of training camp in August.
In team tests, Mauia ran 40 yards in 4.89 seconds. He also completed 96 sit-ups in two minutes. With straightened legs, he can touch the bottom of his toes.
He also has remained strong, bench-pressing 445 pounds and squat-lifting a team-high 640 pounds.
With the weights balanced on his shoulders, Mauia recalled of his squat-lift, "I said a prayer before I went down, and I said a prayer before I come up. Everything I do well is because of God. If God's not in your life, you won't go far."
His prayers were answered this semester when Jones awarded Mauia a football scholarship.
"I struggled all throughout last semester," Mauia said. "Everything is better now. I have a scholarship and a place to stay. Having my school paid for is really good. I came here for an education, and football is giving me that. I feel blessed."
Reach Stephen Tsai at firstname.lastname@example.org.