Off-the-beaten-path storylines: Hawaii Rainbow Warriors at Arizona Wildcats

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Random thoughts while wondering how Brian Jeffries is preparing to become tongue twisted with some of the Polynesian names on the Hawaii roster tomorrow night, including former Arizona player Makani Kema-Kaleiwahaea … and that’s one of the easier names to say. …

— Kema-Kaleiwahaea, known mostly during his time at Arizona as Keoni Bush-Loo, transferred back home to Hawaii four games into the 2014 season. The Ewa Beach, Hawaii, native left for personal reasons although it was not difficult to see why he returned to Hawaii. He hardly played in Arizona’s first four games that season after playing in all 23 games his freshman and sophomore seasons of 2012 and 2013. … Now the fifth-year senior is one of the Rainbow Warriors’ top defenders at linebacker with eight tackles, including two sacks, in the first three games. Last year, he had only 2.5 sacks all season. He had a solo sack for a loss of 12 yards in Arizona’s AdvoCare V100 Bowl win over Boston College following the 2013 season. …

Hawaii defensive lineman Makani Kema-Kaleiwahaea (then known as Keoni Bush-Loo) during his days at Arizona …

Kema-Kaleiwahea started his Arizona career as a tight end before being switched to linebacker by Rich Rodriguez before his freshman season. “I’m tired of wasting your time,” Rodriguez told him about the switch during fall camp that year, according to The Arizona Daily Star. “I want to see you play.” Kema-Kaleiwahea now plays more on the defensive line for Hawaii. “Some of those defensive players (at Arizona), I’ve trained along with them every day year round and I have best friends on that team so definitely I’m going to be sharing tips (with Hawaii’s coaches) and stuff like that,” Kema-Kaleiwahea said in an interview this week. …

He was named this to the 2016 Allstate AFCA Good Works Team, recognized as a college football player who dedicates his time to bettering the community and the lives of others. He and his wife Brianna were among the honorees for the 2016 Casey Excellence for Children Awards. Kema-Kaleiwahea grew up on O’ahu in an adoptive family of six children, including his brother, a female cousin and three other boys. To remove the children from an abusive environment, the couple created a home for the children in Tucson and made sacrifices to become their caregivers so they would not be separated in the child welfare system. Permanent homes were found for three of the children, while Kema-Kaleiwahea and his wife have since officially adopted two of the boys, Luke and Kaimana Kaleiwahea, since returning to Hawaii. …


— Another Hawaii player with Tucson ties — defensive back Jalen Rogers — returns home where he attended Cienega High School. The redshirt senior is a 2012 graduate of Cienega. He was a three-sport athlete in football, basketball and track and earned three varsity letters in football. He was a second-team 4A Kino all-region and all-Tucson pick as a senior, finishing with 92 tackles and two interceptions during his senior year. He also caught 30 passes for 471 yards and four touchdowns, and rushed 12 times for 159 yards and another score. He scored four defensive touchdowns for Cienega as a senior. He went on to play at Mesa Community College, redshirting his freshman season in 2012. After two years there, he was recruited to Hawaii. … The fifth-year senior has 23 tackles and one interception with two passes broken up. …

— Only two years ago talk circulated around Hawaii that the Rainbow Warriors’ program was going under. The athletic director at the time, Ben Jay, said the school might have to drop the program because of a $2.1 million deficit. The program was in a stretch of operating in a deficit for the 11th season out of the previous 13 years. … The facilities were lacking and the turf at Hawaii’s stadium was poor. … Well, the program is still alive and Hawaii is showing no signs of going away, traveling to Australia earlier this season to play Cal. …

The firing of Norm Chow was a step in the right direction after he was 10-36 in four seasons at Hawaii, including 4-25 in Mountain West games. The Rainbow Warriors did not have the financial means to hire another coach with a recognizable name. They went for a bargain in Nick Rolovich, a former offensive coordinator at Nevada. He got a four-year contract that pays him $400,008 each in years one and two and $425,000 each in years three and four. If Hawaii gets to a bowl in Rolovich’s first two seasons (this is his second season), he automatically gets a fifth year on the deal. Rolovich’s 2016 salary is less than half the Mountain West average for a head football coach and by far the lowest in the conference. The Mountain West average of the other 11 schools in 2015 was $853,000, with San Jose State’s Ron Caragher making the lowest salary at $540,775. …

— Hawaii was so over matched at Michigan two weeks ago that it lost 63-3 despite Jim Harbaugh playing 16 scholarship freshmen in that game. Think Nick Wilson is looking forward to playing Hawaii? Michigan freshman tailback Chris Evans rushed for 112 yards on only eight carries with two touchdowns against the Rainbow Warriors. Hawaii ranks No. 120 out of 128 FBS teams in total defense, allowing 520 yards a game. … Hawaii was a winner in one important way at Michigan, especially for that financially strapped program. It received a paycheck of $1 million from the Wolverines for the game. That experience, playing in the Big House, was likely worth the 60-point non-conference loss. …

— If only Arizona showed up for the first half … The Wildcats played in stark contrast from the first half to the second half in their first two games against BYU and Grambling State. The Wildcats were outscored 30-3 in the opening half of those games, while dominating the second half with a 44-9 scoring margin. The second half success includes a second-half comeback against BYU that gave the Wildcats a brief lead late in the fourth quarter. Last week’s 28-0 run erased a 21-3 halftime deficit and a lot of grief against a lower-division Grambling team. … Is it a case of Rodriguez and his staff making adjustments or the Wildcats finally putting their minds to the task at hand? “We have to try to do something to get us in a rhythm offensively, where we can get some first downs and gain some confidence,” Rodriguez said. “Once you get in a rhythm offensively, by getting some first downs and some momentum, it’s easy to take off from there.” The defense comes into play, also, giving up big gains to Grambling in the first half last week. It was fortunate against BYU that big running plays by the Cougars were called back because of penalties or else the halftime deficit would have been far worse than 9-0. …

The vast improvement made from the first half to the second is obvious during the Rich Rod era. During his tenure over the last five seasons, the Wildcats have a minus-31 scoring margin (925-956) in the first two quarters. In the second half, Arizona is at a plus-207 margin (960-753) with overtimes not included. …


ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.

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