Insight, News, and Opinion by Nick Abramo
  • April 13, 2021
Hawaii Coach Todd Graham Sees Friday’s Game At Wyoming As A Huge Early-Season Challenge

The guy is saying and doing all the right things. So far.

And his University of Hawaii Rainbow Warriors appear to be stepping up — like those varsity sweater wearing athletes from, say, the 1930s — and saying, “Coach, I’m strapping up my helmet and ready for whatever you ask.”

Eh, whoa boy. Not too fast. Hawaii is just 1-0 and has a coach, Todd Graham, who can’t mask that he’s pleased as punch with the effort he’s getting from his football team. But it’s a looooong season and there’s much more of a grind to go through to get to that proverbial top of the hill.

But, for cripes sake (is that word OK?), so far, so very, very good. From the “War Dog,” speed-first defense to the “Tougher Than Hell” mentality he is inculcating to the performance in the 34-19 season-opening win over Fresno State on Saturday, this is just what the doctor ordered for anyone who calls themselves a fan of the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors.

Junior running back Miles Reed got loose for some of his 109 rushing yards against Fresno State.
(Photo courtesy of Hawaii athletics).

But will it last? And how good are they?

My guess to the first question is yes. I’ve been around the block enough to know when I see a sincere, passionate person who has the ability to lead and get results.

The second question is anybody’s guess. And that type of thing is all relative anyway. Put Hawaii up against No. 1 Clemson and there probably is no 300-plus rushing yards, like last week against the Bulldogs. And then those hounds of pass rushers from the SEC would likely have been hitting — or close to — the chin of sophomore quarterback Chevan Cordeiro more often than not.

And that’s why scaling this mountain of a Mountain West schedule is enough of a challenge. It will be plenty enough of a test. Maybe it will sharpen the Rainbow Warriors enough to play with the big boys from the power conferences at the end of the season in a bowl game. You never know.

Probably the most important thing Graham said during his weekly media Zoom conference Tuesday was that he is completely aware that walking into Friday’s game at Wyoming and getting out of there with a victory will take a major effort.


  • Hawaii Rainbow Warriors (1-0) at Wyoming Cowboys (0-1)
  • Friday, Oct. 30, 3:45 Hawaii time
  • TV: FS1
  • Radio: KKEA, 1420-AM and 92.7-FM
  • Live Stats:
  • Series Information: 25th meeting, Wyoming leads 14-10


“We’re playing a team playing that went to Nevada, who upset ’em (37-34 in overtime),” Graham said. “They’re (the Cowboys) backed into a corner. I know their coach (Craig Bohl) and I guarantee you they’re going to be hungry and we’re going to get their best effort. I think (Wyoming is) a better football team than (Fresno State). They had a great defense last year, giving up 18 points a game. We’re going to have to have 100 percent ball security and eliminate penalties. … This is going to be a physical, knock-down, drag-out game. We’re getting a team coming off a week in which they lost a game they were picked to win. Their motivation is high. We gotta make sure our motivation is high.”

That was a great message. He believes it. Take Wyoming lightly and it will spell certain trouble.

Starting junior nose tackle Blessman Ta’ala recalls the rugged game against Wyoming in 2018, when the Cowboys came to town and were beaten by the Rainbow Warriors 17-13.

“All I remember was they were a hard running team, tough everywhere, even on defense,” he said.

Sophomore defensive tackle Jonah Laulu, who had three tackles against Fresno Sate, took a short breather at a practice session this week. (Photo courtesy of Hawaii athletics).

Hawaii would be deceiving itself if it didn’t expect this to be the same kind of game — this time in Laramie, Wyo., where the daily lows are 25 degrees and the highs are 49.

Fun all around, right?

About a practice on Wednesday, Ta’ala was probably joking when he said, “It got too cold for me. I had to put my hands in my pockets.”

Wait, he had to have been joking. This guy is 6-1 and 300 pounds. He’s not going to let nippy weather bother him. Right?

If at all possible, Graham doesn’t let weather even get into the discussion.

“We signed up for football because it’s hard and it’s for tough people,” he said. “If you ain’t tough, you should get out of it. I don’t worry about any of it (weather, altitude; Laramie is 7,165 feet above sea level) because you can’t do anything about it.”

Graham would probably play during a hurricane. This guy exudes football through and through.

Asked what it’s like being on the road for two weeks to play two games without coming home, he made sure to say he missed his wife. Hey, the guy ain’t stupid (and he said he knows his wife watches the Zoom conference videos).

But then came this startling (to his wife, anyway) remark after talking about how great it is to get to know his players and bond in close-knit quarters: “I’d do it for the next eight weeks.”

Ho, ho, ho. So, if any of you Rainbow Warriors are listening, you’re probably pretty lucky to have this passionate man for a coach. So go win one for the Gipper and stuff like that, huh?

And, just a reminder, demeanor isn’t everything. Just because he would probably play through 100-mile-per-hour winds doesn’t mean his players will. That’s the trick for all coaches, innit (see Ricky Gervais‘ dictionary)?

And despite the challenges of COVID-19, it’s obvious that he’s trying super hard to get them to to that same kind of mentality.

The Most Important ‘D’ Is Discipline

“People that are consistent are guys that have character, a servant’s heart, a servant’s leadership,” Graham said. “They’re smart, organized and prepared and (that) produces discipline. We’re (going for) elite discipline and we’re maybe 10 percent there.”

That last sentence is worth repeating and putting in bold, italic and a fancy color because it’s where Graham’s mind is at:

“We’re (going for) elite discipline and we’re maybe 10 percent there.”

That Mountain West is how high?

Editor’s note: We at Bedrock Sports Hawaii think the format of the Mountain West this year is going to bring out the best in all of the 12 teams. Every game is super important, with no divisions and the two teams left standing in the won/lost columns moving on to the championship game.

In the long run, toughness and playing mistake-free (as much as possible) football is going to matter.

“Discipline is not something that is popular today,” Graham added. “I interviewed for quite a few head coaching jobs (before being hired by Hawaii) and I’ve never felt that discipline was so unpopular (before) in my lifetime.”

For The Rainbow Warriors, Passing The PH (Physicality) Test Is Ultra Important

It should be mentioned at this time that Graham — as he is accustomed to doing — mentioned the words “physical” or “physicality” six times in his 17-minute Zoom conference Tuesday.

“We were the most physical team on the field (against Fresno State),” he said.

Due to a snow-covered outdoor field, the University of Hawaii football team practice at an indoor field in the Denver area earlier this week. The Rainbow Warriors made a stop in Colorado on the way from Fresno (site of last week’s 34-19 victory over Fresno State) to Laramie, Wyo., where they play against the Mountain West Conference rival Cowboys on Friday.
(Photo courtesy of Hawaii athletics.)

And, of course, there are fixes to be made (aside from the 90 percent discipline the Rainbow Warriors are working toward).

“I was not happy with the kickoff return we fumbled at the beginning of the game and was especially not happy with the next kickoff return that bounced off us out of bounds,” Graham said. “That’s indicative of not practicing and not being properly prepared. They responded in a big way, no panic. (But) there were too many sacks, too many penalties, especially on the offensive side. The offensive line is supposed to be the strength of this team, so you can’t have five illegal procedure penalties, an illegal man downfield, a holding call and give up four sacks. That’s part of not being in rhythm. That’s part of a lack of practice is what that is. We’ve gotta eliminate that, eliminate putting the ball on the ground or in jeopardy. These are self-destructive things and easy to fix.”

COVID-19 has played a factor in the development of all teams, and here’s how Graham sees that health challenge in this most unusual of seasons: “In my 30 some years of coaching, this is the most frustrating time. Practice is almost impossible and it’s hard on an old guy (age 55) like me.”

Cordeiro’s Smarts Get High Marks

Graham got to see Cordeiro (229 passing yards, 116 rushing yards) face the fire as the team’s leader (he received unanimous votes to be one of the captains) for the first time.


Mountain West Conference Football Standings

Boise State, 1-0
Hawaii, 1-0
Nevada, 1-0
San Diego State, 1-0
San Jose State, 1-0
Colorado State, 0-0
New Mexico, 0-0
Air Force, 0-1
Fresno State, 0-1
UNLV, 0-1
Utah State, 0-1
Wyoming, 0-1

Saturday, Oct. 24
>> At Nevada 37, Wyoming 34, OT
>> At No. 25 Boise State 42, Utah State 13
>> Hawaii 34, at Fresno State 19
>> At San Diego State 34, UNLV 6
>> At San Jose State 17, Air Force 6

Thursday, Oct. 29
>> Colorado State at Fresno State, 4 p.m.

Friday, Oct. 30
>> Hawaii at Wyoming, 3:45 p.m.

Saturday, Oct. 31
>> Boise State at Air Force, noon
>> San Diego State at Utah State, 3:30 p.m.
>> New Mexico at San Jose State, 4:30 p.m.
>> Nevada at UNLV, 4:30 p.m.


“A great quarterback will take what they give ya’,” the coach said. “They don’t decide what they’re going to do before the snap. They (the Fresno defense) did everything right, covered everybody, so he pulls it down and breaks their backs and hurts you with his legs. He also has a tremendous arm. Very, vary accurate. This kid can see the field. He’s disciplined and coachable. He doesn’t look at external things (like worrying about his stats). That first game he showed potential that he’s going to be really good.”

That statement right there — on the potential Cordeiro continuing to be good or, even better than that — is an amazingly positive thought for any Rainbow Warriors fan. Even though he’s a sophomore, due to the extra year of eligibility given out by the NCAA to all fall athletes, he can play three more seasons after this one.

There have been three changes to the UH’s starting lineup for Friday’s game.

>> Tiger Peterson, a freshman from Waianae and a former Kamehameha standout, will start in place of sophomore Kai Kaneshiro at safety.

>> Sophomore Nick Mardner is at one of the four starting wide receiver positions in place of junior Zion Bowens.

>> Junior Adam Stack, another Kamehameha alum who is from Kailua, adds kicking off duties while continuing his role as punter. Freshman Matthew Shipley continues as the place-kicker.

Hawaii starters vs. Wyoming, Saturday

>> LT: Ilm Manning, 6-4, 280, Jr. (Glendale, Ariz.)
>> LG: Kohl Levao, 6-6, 350, Sr. (Aberdeen, Wash.)
>> C: Taaga Tuulima, 6-2, 310, Sr. (Ewa Beach)
>> RG: Solo Vaipulu, 6-2, 300, Sr. (Riverside, Calif.)
>> RT: Gene Pryor, 6-3, 310, Sr. (Visalia, Calif.)
>> WR: Rico Bussey, 6-2, 190, Sr. (Lawton, Okla.)
>> WR: Lincoln Victor, 5-10, 165, Fr. (West Camas, Wash.)
>> WR: Nick Mardner, 6-6, 190, Jr. (Mississauga, Ontario)
>> WR: Jared Smart, 6-0, 190, Sr. (Dublin, Calif.)
>> RB: Miles Reed, 5-8, 190, Jr. (Corona, Calif.)
>> QB: Chevan Cordeiro, 6-1, 190, So. (Honolulu)

>> DE: Penei Pavihi, 6-3, 245, Jr. (Pago Pago, American Samoa)
>> NT: Blessman Ta’ala, 6-1, 300, Jr. (Inglewood, Calif.)
>> DT: Jonah Laulu, 6-6, 280, So. (Las Vegas)
>> DE: Darius Muasau, 6-1, 230, So. (Ewa Beach)
>> LB: Jeremiah Pritchard, 6-0, 230, Jr. (Leone, American Samoa)
>> LB: Khoury Bethley, 5-10, 200, Jr. (Chino, Calif.)
>> LB: Quentin Frazier, 6-1, 195, Sr. (San Diego)
>> CB: Cortez Davis, 5-11, 180, Sr. (Decatur, Ga.)
>> S: Eugene Ford, 6-2, 210, Sr. (Venice, Calif.)
>> S: Tiger Peterson, 6-1, 195, Fr. (Waianae)
>> CB: Cameron Lockridge, 6-0, 180, So. (Tampa, Fla.)

Special teams
>> PK: Matthew Shipley, 6-1, 175, Fr. (Liberty Hill, Texas)
>> P/KO: Adam Stack, 6-2, 180, Jr. (Kailua)
>> LS: Wyatt Tucker, 5-10, 205, Jr. (Chino Hills, Calif.)
>> HOLD: Stan Gaudion, 6-3, 210, Sr. (Melbourne, Australia)
>> PR: Lincoln Victor, 5-10, 165, Fr. (West Camasm Wash.)
>> KR: Dae Dae Hunter, 5-10, 200, Fr. (Denver)

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