Honolulu, HI—Amidst the first real negative news in an otherwise fruitful and healthy pre-season, the Hawaii Warriors are showing the focus and mettle of a championship team determined to settle some unfinished business.
With the season-opener against Colorado on the horizon the last thing coach Greg McMackin wanted to hear over the weekend was that two of his players were arrested for third-degree assault following an altercation at a Waikiki nightclub.
But when you have the luck of landing a player like Stump Godfrey, sometimes you have to deal with a couple players who aren't too bright.
Junior wide receiver Darius Bright and senior linebacker Aaron Brown have been suspended for the Sept. 3 opener because of their alleged involvement in an early-morning fracas Sunday at Zanzabar Nightclub.
"Aaron and Darius used extremely poor judgment and, in turn, embarrassed the football program and the university. These are two young men who have never been in trouble with the law before, but became involved in a situation where they did not make the right choices," McMackin said in a written statement on Monday.
With the suspensions of Bright and Brown, wide receiver Allen Sampson and linebacker George Daily-Lyles, both sophomores, have been thrust into the starting lineup. On Monday, middle linebacker Corey Paredes slid over to Brown's weak-side linebacker spot during practice and Daily-Lyles was in Paredes' usual position.
"It's tough because this kind of stuff doesn't happen too often, some of your best players on the team (getting) suspended. So it's a big loss," team captain Paredes said after practice. "But we got to keep focused...we got Colorado this week (and) we cannot have any distractions...we just have to forget about this, just get over it and play hard on Saturday."
Daily-Lyles, a Long Beach Poly High School product who started two games last season, accepted his increased role with confidence, saying, "I've been ready since spring ball and it's pretty simple. Coach has over-prepared us for any situation, so get out there and it's just second nature pretty much...Coach makes it very easy. He breaks it down to us, 'this is the situation, this is what we're going to do, and this is how we're going to roll with it.' So it's real simple."
Out at wide receiver, the biggest difference between Sampson and Bright is their stature. Sampson is a diminutive 5'7" and 145 pounds, and Bright soars at 6'4" and 230 pounds. Quarterback Bryant Moniz joked after Monday's practice that:
"He's harder to see. He's about two feet shorter than Darius."
But Sampson also brings his own set of skills to the table, Moniz said. "He's fast, he's quick, so he's a different kind of receiver compared to Darius who's tall and big. So he'll present different challenges for (Colorado's) defense...I've gotten a lot of reps with (Sampson) over the fall camp, between him and Darius they both switched out a lot, so I feel comfortable with Allen. I don't think we'll miss a beat having him in."
Sampson appeared in 13 games as a true freshman last season but did not have any receptions. He averaged 20.3 yards on 15 kick returns, a sign of his tremendous speed.
The Tampa, Fla., native said "it feels good [to start], but it's unfortunate that everything happened with D-Bright and AB. I feel like D-Bright, he's been the greatest teacher to me. He always told me to be ready just in case, and everything. So I feel bad that everything happened, and at the same time I'm going to do it for him...And Mo [Moniz], I think he's a great adjuster, so I'll be able to get the ball still."
McMackin said that the game-plan for Colorado was set last Friday and that the suspensions wouldn't change anything. He said that he met with the team Monday morning and that things are going on as usual. "These guys are great guys, they're focused...you know I'm really excited for the ballgame."
Last season in a game at Colorado the Warriors led 10-0 at halftime, but they couldn't hold onto the lead in the second half and ended up losing 31-13.
"We have some unfinished business with these guys and we just want to finish it," Paredes said.