BY STEPHEN TSAI
Now that playing football is no longer, literally, a pain in the neck, Hawai'i defensive end Elliott Purcell is poised to contribute as a starter in tomorrow's game against Navy.
For most of the season, Purcell has endured a stinger, which resulted in sharp jolts to his shoulders and neck.
"Every time I would get hit, there would be pain in my neck," Purcell said.
Ice packs and rest were the only treatments to alleviate the condition.
Purcell, who was limited in practices, eventually ceded the left end's job to sophomore Liko Satele.
But now Purcell is relatively healthy, and his run-stopping ability is needed against Navy's triple-option attack. The Midshipmen are third nationally in rushing (282.55 yards per game), and they run 89 percent of the time.
"Elliott has shown himself to be a real effective run defender," defensive line coach Dave Aranda said of the 6-foot-3, 255-pound junior. "The weeks we've asked him to play the run, he's done well for us. I think this will be a big week for him."
Against a run-option team, the key is to not crash the backfield — the offense will then run into the vacated gap — but to control the line of scrimmage.
"He plays with low pad level in the run game," Aranda said. "I think the best attribute is how he strikes with his hands, and is physical."
Purcell said: "With run-stopping, there's more contact, there's more hitting. It's more physical. I'm a more physical person. Off the field, I'm calm and relaxed. When I go on the field, I turn the switch on."
Even with a multiple responsibilities — he and his longtime girlfriend have a son — Purcell manages to find time to perform community service.
Purcell and several members of his church clean school campuses in Waipahu.
"You feel better when you clean everything up," Purcell said. "There's a sense of accomplishment, like, 'I did something good for someone else.' It's humbling."
Then again, it is a way for Purcell to channel his inner "Monk."
"I like to clean," he said. "When I see something dirty, I clean it. ... My son is messy with his toys. I'm always picking up after him."
His commitment is infectious. He shares a row of lockers with Cory Daniel, Clint Daniel, Miah Ostrowski, Kainoa LaCount, Adrian Thomas and Austin Hansen.
"Our aisle is the cleanest," Purcell said. "We take pride in that. I challenge any of the other guys to see who has the cleanest aisle."