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Hawaii Football Q&A with Jeremy Rodrigues

ATQ’s friend from the 50th state talks story about our respective programs and today’s game

Stanford v Hawai’i Photo by Darryl Oumi/Getty Images

The football history between the University of Hawaii at Manoa and the University of Oregon stretches back over a hundred years, though games have been infrequent. Oregon leads the overall series 4-3. Hawaii has won the past three meetings, the last being a 36-16 upset over the eventual Pac-10 champion Ducks in Honolulu during the 1994 season.

The College of Hawaii, which would later become UH Manoa, first fielded a football team in 1909. For over a decade these teams would play local high schools and athletic clubs. The “Fighting Deans” first intercollegiate game was a 14-0 loss to visiting Nevada on Christmas Day 2021. A year later they would record their first intercollegiate victory, beating Pomona 25-6 on Christmas Day 1922. The next season, Hawaii would upset the visiting Aggies from Oregon Agricultural College (later Oregon State University) 7-0. Following the win, a rainbow appeared over Moilili field. Local media immediately began referring to UH athletic teams as the “Rainbows,” and the name has stuck in various forms ever since.

SBNation’s Hawaii beat writer Jeremy Rodrigues was kind enough to chat with me in advance of today’s game. Read my answers to his questions here.

  • Aloha Stadium, where the Rainbow Warriors had played their home games since 1975, was condemned following the 2020 season. How have the temporary renovations to the practice field at the Clarence T.C. Ching sports complex worked out, and what are the long term plans for a permanent venue?

I think the arrangement at Clarence T.C. Ching Complex has worked as well as one could hope. After all, how many college football programs have a practice facility that can double as a small stadium with one off-season of notice? The above question is a complicated one. NASED, the New Aloha Stadium and Entertainment District, is currently planned to be Hawaii football’s future home. The stadium will be on the same site as old Aloha Stadium in Halawa. However, skepticism exists among Hawaii fans and residents of the state.

The original date for completion was 2026. It’s now been pushed to 2028. It’s September of 2023 and old Aloha Stadium still stands. Yes, condemned in January of 2021, the state hasn’t even destroyed the old site so that the new project can begin building...nearly 2.5 years later! This isn’t a surprise, whether it’s the rail project (did eventually finish!) or other major government projects, Hawaii is not known for its punctuality when it comes to finishing major projects.

What is Hawaii football supposed to do? It becomes hard to recruit when the program is projected to be in flux for 5+ years. Does UH incrementally continue to add to Clarence T.C. Ching Complex and call that home? There are political hurdles galore in that scenario. Capacity is around 15,000 at the moment. Can that be pushed to 20,000 or more? Will they be allowed to? Is it okay for the state to not allow UH to improve its current predicament? Tricky questions.

For now, Hawaii invites the Manoa mist at Clarence T.C. Ching Complex. Campus is not used to football games (Halawa is not close to Manoa) influencing parking, scheduling, etc. The Stanford game a few weeks ago was on a Friday. All of campus moved to online schooling for the day. That caused some commotion, but all in all Hawaii football is trying to make lemonade out of some expired lemons.

  • Head coach Timmy Chang took over under very difficult circumstances last year, so it isn’t much of a surprise that his teams have struggled to win many games so far. How would you assess coach Chang’s performance up to this point, and what would you like to see from his team the rest of this season?

Timmy Chang took over in January of 2022, and he was called upon because Todd Graham had essentially chased off every single essential player on the depth chart. Whether fans wanted to admit it or not, Chang was always taking on a major rebuild. Last year was rough, nothing worked on offense and frankly UH just didn’t have the horses.

Chang countered those offensive struggles by returning to the run-and-shoot offense, the pass-happy system June Jones made famous. Notable for getting results (at least on the stat sheet) out of players that might not be the greatest talents.

I’m not going to sit here and lie, Hawaii’s still in a tough spot. Small victories are found in young players emerging, but Chang will readily admit Hawaii is still very much in rebuild mode. Considering the other obstacles of his job *gestures to stadium debacle*, I can’t imagine anyone has legitimate gripes about Chang right now. Maybe in a few seasons, but Todd Graham sank Hawaii football to the bottom of the ocean. This was always going to be a major rebuilding project.

The Mountain West is not good this year, and Hawaii dodges Fresno State and Boise State in conference play this fall. I’d like to see the Warriors pick up a surprising win or two and finish around 5-6 wins, but I’ll make no demands at this stage of the Chang era.

  • One of the best parts of college sports is the unique traditions every program develops. What is a UH football tradition that Duck fans should know about?

I’d be lying if I said Hawaii has long standing gameday traditions that occur on the field or in the stands. There have been brief traditions, but nothing consistent over the years aside from the songs the band plays. I don’t know if I’d call it a tradition, but one unique factor to UH football is the team name. Hawaii football was named the Rainbows for decades until June Jones took over in 1999 and turned them into the Warriors. Warriors remains Hawaii’s primary name and image, but the Rainbow has reemerged in the last decade and it’s not uncommon to hear Hawaii referred to as the Rainbow Warriors. Briefly a point of contention, I’d point to the “Warrior” and “Rainbow” names and images coexisting as unique to Hawaii football. I myself will be at the game in Eugene today and be sporting a Warriors shirt with Rainbow basketball pants. Two totally different names, logos, concepts but when you see them you know it’s Hawaii.

  • Let’s get to the game itself. Who is one player on offense for the Rainbow Warriors who may not jump off the stat sheet that Duck fans should keep an eye on? What about on defense?

I’m going to answer with junior wide receiver Karsyn Pupunu. He has only one catch on the season, a circus catch against Stanford, but he also blocked a punt against Albany and has become quite the source of inspiration for Hawaii football. Pupunu is from Lahaina on Maui and lost family in the wildfires. He has ascended to the top of the depth chart and it’s been heart-warming watching him make an impact.

On defense I’ll point to defensive end Ezra Evaimalo, who leads the team in sacks through three games. Evaimalo was not expected to be a major contributor this season and has surprised onlookers, making numerous plays in the back field. Hawaii is desperate for playmakers on the defensive line and Evaimalo appears to be in the midst of a breakout season.

  • It’s no secret that Oregon is heavily favored at home, so I won’t ask for a score prediction. But if Dr. Strange used the time stone and said he had found 1 out of over a million possible futures where the Rainbow Warriors pull the upset, how would that game play out?

Hawaii scores a field goal on the opening drive. A lightning delay occurs soon after and lasts for hours into the early morning. The head official goes rogue and unfairly declares Hawaii the winner 3-0, even though everyone keeps telling him that’s not how this works.

Really, like any other massive upset that occurs in college football: an insane amount of unforced errors by the Ducks. Hawaii winning the turnover margin 6-0. Something preposterous like that. No false bravado here, Hawaii is massively overwhelmed in the talent department for this game. Covering the spread and emerging healthy would be big wins as conference play nears.

  • I wanted to ask a more serious question before I let you go. The state of Oregon is no stranger to wildfire, but what Maui recently experienced is one of the most devastating fires in US history and the recovery is only beginning. If our readers at Addicted to Quack want to help, what can they do?

A much appreciated question. The UH athletic department has put together a handy page that lists various legitimate ways people can help the victims on Maui, located right here. Any support is greatly appreciated, much thanks.

Mahalo to Jeremy for your answers. Best of luck to Hawaii with the rest of their season after today!