EL PASO, TEXAS » Emerging from the Southwest's chilly practice yesterday, Hawaii football player Elliott Purcell reaffirmed his belief there's no place like home.
"The weather in Hawaii is always paradise," said Purcell, a senior defensive end.
Tomorrow, Purcell will start against a New Mexico State team that he nearly joined in 2006.
"They recruited me hard," Purcell said of the Aggies. "They made everything sound so good, so I (verbally) committed."
Purcell said he was impressed with the Aggies' promise of a bright future. Woody Widenhofer, who was the Aggies' defensive coordinator at the time, told Purcell he could become an immediate starter.
"He showed me a Super Bowl ring," Purcell said of Widenhofer, who had won four NFL championships with the Pittsburgh Steelers as a linebackers coach and defensive coordinator. "I was really stoked. I wanted to be part of that program."
But then Purcell received a phone call from UH assistant coach Cal Lee.
Lee had built a football dynasty at Saint Louis School, Purcell's alma mater. Lee left to join the Warriors a year before Purcell reached high school.
"Coach Cal got a hold of me, and you cannot say 'no' to that guy," Purcell said, smiling. "That guy is a legend. The rest is history."
Purcell said Lee spoke of the homefield advantage.
"He told me I could play in front of my family," Purcell said. "You can't beat that."
Purcell then pledged to sign with the Warriors.
In the fall of 2006, Purcell and his girlfriend Keani Santos learned they were expecting their first child.
"It turned out to be good," Purcell said. "I have a family, and I got to play in front of my family."
Two years ago, the Aggies fired Hal Mumme as head coach and did not renew the contracts of his assistant coaches.
The coaching change at NMSU, Purcell said, "made me feel better about my choice."
Purcell missed 2010 spring training after suffering a high-ankle sprain while working out. He ended up ceding his starting job.
But he was in the opening lineup in UH's third game, against Colorado, and has started ever since. In last week's 41-7 rout of San Jose State, Purcell made two of the Warriors' eight sacks.
"It was good to contribute," Purcell said.
Purcell earned a bachelor's degree this past summer, and now is taking post-graduate classes. He and Keani now have two sons. Taimane is 3, Taualii is 7 months.
"The best thing about being a father is coming home to your kids," Purcell said. "It's great when you open the door, and they run up and hug you. I don't get to see them a lot during the day because of how time-consuming football is. I love being a father."