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Friday, November 30, 2007

For a few Huskies, playing against undefeated Hawaii will be reminder

DON RUIZ; The News Tribune
Last updated: November 30th, 2007 01:25 AM (PST)

HONOLULU – When the Washington Huskies arrive in Hawaii today, it will mark a homecoming for four of them.

Defensive linemen Wilson Afoa, Daniel Te’o-Nesheim and Kalani Aldrich and safety Jay Agnotti all left Island life for Seattle and the mainland.

For Afoa, Washington’s game Saturday night against No. 11 Hawaii at Aloha Stadium will be a kind of double-homecoming, returning not only to his home state but also to the home stadium of his high school.

“I’m definitely excited,” Afoa said. “Not many college athletes can say that they played their last high school game and their last college game in the same stadium.”

The last game Afoa played in Hawaii was for the state championship, and his team won.

Now, Afoa says he wants another victory in that stadium, and he’s determined not to let any reunions for the natives or sightseeing for the newcomers get in the way.

“I believe 100 percent in my teammates,” he said. “This is pretty much a business trip for us – just another game on our schedule. So we just have to step up to the challenge and play football.”

The Huskies are scheduled to arrive today and head straight to their hotel. They will see Aloha Stadium for the first time Saturday, a couple of hours before the 8:30 p.m. kickoff.

After the game, the team will remain in Honolulu, free to explore the island of Oahu on Sunday, before flying home Monday.

“Hopefully, the way we will do things will allow them to focus on winning the football game first, and then see the beauty of Hawaii,” coach Tyrone Willingham said.

As tour guide, Afoa doesn’t want his teammates to see the sights of his home state as much as he wants them to get the feel.

“It’s real laid back,” he said. “Everybody cares about each other. It’s just that love that you’re not going to feel anywhere else.”

In Te’o-Nesheim’s experience, that laid-back attitude even seeps into Aloha Stadium.

“It was quiet whenever I’ve been there,” he said. “I’ve been there for three games. One was Cincinnati, (another was) when they beat Michigan State and when they beat Idaho. They weren’t really that packed. They were quiet. It was kind of an island feel, I guess.”

A different environment is expected Saturday for what is being called the biggest game in UH history.

The 11th-ranked Warriors are 11-0 - one win away from an undefeated regular season and likely qualification for one of the prestigious BCS bowls.

“I watched UH football when I was there, but I wasn’t a super hard-core UH football fan,” Te’o-Nesheim said. “They never did this good when I was there.”

Neither Te’o-Nesheim nor Afoa seriously considered playing for the Warriors. Both wanted to play on the mainland.

When Afoa picked UW, the Huskies were enjoying a run of eight straight bowl seasons – including two bowls in Hawaii. The Warriors, meanwhile, were experiencing middle- to upper-level success in the Western Athletic Conference.

Washington offered not only a chance to play in the Pacific-10 Conference, but also for bowl games and for conference championships – perhaps even a national championship.

It hasn’t turned out that way. In Afoa’s five college seasons, the Huskies haven’t gone to any bowls, while the Warriors have gone to three. Washington hasn’t even contended for a Pac-10 title, while Hawaii clinched its first outright WAC title last weekend with a nationally televised win over Boise State.

For all that, Afoa said he would make the same decision again.

“I’m happy for the state of Hawaii, where the program has gone,” Afoa said. “I respect coach (June) Jones and where he has taken the program to. But I have no regrets picking Washington over Hawaii.”

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