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Sunday, January 31, 2010

Three players rise to top of solid recruiting class

By Ferd Lewis

This isn't Manti Te'o's football recruiting class anymore.

Last season the Notre Dame-bound Punahou School linebacker was not only far and away the best player in the state, he was defensively, at least, considered by some analysts as the best college prospect in the United States.

They were perceptions validated by Te'o starting as a freshman at South Bend where he was among the leading tacklers for the Fighting Irish.

This year the title of top prospect in the Islands goes to ... well it depends on whom you talk to. The Advertiser surveyed seven college coaches from three conferences and got almost as many opinions on ranking the top players.

Kona Schwenke and Hauoli Jamora, mainstays of the Kahuku High defensive line, 'Iolani defensive tackle Sealii Epenesa, Waialua High twin tower linemen Graham Rowley and Micah Hatchie, Kapolei safety Shaydon Akuna ... take your choice.

Overall, the aggregate picture that emerged had Schwenke, Jamora and Epenesa as the top three in a tightly bunched Advertiser Top 25.

For college coaches it came down to, they said, how much you look for down-the-road potential or immediate return, who is a better fit for the needs and systems of the schools that are recruiting them, who is coming off injuries, who may have to switch positions and who has already been academically cleared.

One aspect that coaches did agree on, however, was that while the recruiting Class of 2010 is solid, it is, in the words of one Pac-10 recruiter, "... a good, but not great year." Said another with extensive experience recruiting Hawai'i: "It is a pretty good year."

It is, recruiters say, an especially good year for defensive linemen and safeties.

Last year 27 players from Hawai'i signed with Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly known as Division I-A) schools on national letter of intent day, 10 with Bowl Championship Series member schools. This year the total will be similar.

They are remarkable numbers especially since, once upon a not-so-distant time, only a handful of so-called marquee schools sent coaches here to scout players. These days, however, Hawai'i has been turned into a veritable fishing tournament by recruiters. "It is becoming over-fished," groused one veteran recruiter.

Never before has the University of Hawai'i faced such a heavy or far-reaching onslaught for talent in its backyard. This year Arkansas, Baylor and Florida State joined the perennials — Brigham Young, Colorado, UCLA, Utah, Washington, etc. — in making scholarship offers.

Moreover, Notre Dame, which formerly dipped a line in every decade or so, has shown signs of coming back off its Te'o success by apparently trying to make a pipeline of it.

Increasingly, UH's Western Athletic Conference opponents are also dropping lines in here, something that the Warriors had hoped would have ended when BYU and Utah bolted to the Mountain West.

Instead, Utah State and New Mexico State have stepped up their campaigns and will both have successes this year. Utah State signed one player last year and could have as many as five this year.

While the influx expands opportunities for local players, it can be doubly disconcerting for UH because not only might some of those players have eventually found their way to the Warriors as walk-ons or scholarship players, now they can also be employed against Hawai'i in the WAC. Both Aggies, it seems, will have a promising quarterback to show for their efforts: Leilehua's Andrew Manley pledging to New Mexico State and Saint Louis School's Jeremy Higgins to Utah State.

Also of concern is that some schools, especially in the Pac-10, are offering recruiting visits to players they know they likely won't have scholarships open for this year but are hoping to entice as recruited walk-ons. Some of those recruits being ones UH might have signed or, at least, gotten to join the Warriors' own highly successful walk-on program.

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