Hamani Stevens knows the critique is coming, and he’s fine with that.
The Oregon offensive lineman, a redshirt freshman from Hemet, will not just have his performance in Monday’s Rose Bowl scrutinized by coaches. Older brother Tevita, the starting center for Utah’s football team, will hurry back to Southern California after the Utes’ New Year’s Eve appearance in the Sun Bowl to watch Hamani’s work as a backup guard for the Ducks.
"He’s always on my back trying to make sure I’m getting better," Hamani said.
It won’t be the first time Tevita Stevens has watched his 6-foot-3, 305-pound "little" brother play. While Utah and Oregon did not meet under the Pac-12 Conference’s interdivisional scheduling rotation, Tevita was able to take advantage of a bye in Utah’s schedule to go to Oregon’s game with Oregon State.
"It was awesome to have him there for the first time, coming back off the mission," said Hamani, who returned to Oregon this year after a two-year Mormon mission in the Philippines. "It’s an awesome experience to have my brother … give me more insight and help me be better."
After that game, Tevita said recently that he had given Hamani "a little critique, saying you could do this a little bit better. That’s the older brother in me, trying to make him the best player he could be, too. …
"It’s the first time I got to see him play in about four years, so I was definitely excited seeing him out there on the field and doing as good as he did."
While much of the technique from Tevita’s experiences at Utah are transferable to Hamani’s work at Oregon, there are aspects of playing on the line at Oregon that are unique because of the Ducks’ fast-paced spread offense.
"Any other offensive lineman, in any other program, I don’t think they could keep up with us," Stevens said. "In the SEC, for example, they’re that smash-mouth, huddle, run the play, huddle again (style). We’re non-stop. We’re running another play before we even stop the last one."
That means, Hamani said, that Oregon requires a different type of offensive lineman than the standard prototype.
"We’re a little bit smaller, but we’re faster," he said. "We’ve got a higher rate of conditioning than any other lineman would have."
As an example of the conditioning demands, he cites a practice staple known as the "Fuji" drill, a non-stop simulation of the two-minute offense.
"When I came back, I was huffing and puffing, almost like I was going to pass out because it was so hard. And it’s hard to believe that we were running this fast as offense lineman."
The drill, he estimated, can include as many as 50 plays in rapid succession.
"I’m not even thinking about how many plays," he said. "I’m just trying to stay alive out there."
The demands of the up-tempo offense even shape the work in the weight room, notes Trevor Fox, the sophomore lineman from Temecula Chaparral.
"We do a lot of power cleans, and our squats are a lot deeper," Fox said. "We do a lot less bench and the more conventional stuff than you’d think we’d do. It’s everything to build explosive strength and speed."
Even at the end of the season, Stevens admits he’s still feeling the aftereffects of his church mission, not fully at the physical level he needs to attain.
"Two years is a long time not to play," he said. "It was difficult coming back off the mission. You don’t have the same kind of jump in your step, hop in your step, the same kind of strength you used to have.
"But it’s coming, and I’m feeling great."