Inside the Rainbow Warriors: A conversation with Hawai’i’s sports editor

Fresno State running back Ronnie Rivers runs through Nevada defenders during the first half of a home match at Bulldog Stadium on Saturday, November 23, 2019 (Armando Carreno/The Collegian)

It’s finally game week, and the Fresno State Bulldogs open up the season against the Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors. Last year, these two teams faced off in Honolulu where the Bulldogs narrowly defeated Hawai’i 41-38. 

The Collegian spoke with Tanner Haworth — the sports editor at Ka Leo O Hawai’i, the student newspaper of the University of Hawai’i — to talk about the upcoming game.

Q: Fresno State and Hawai’i had the same struggle of getting students to participate in athletic activities due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Does playing each other in the first game serve as an advantage to both teams?

A: It doesn’t matter who either team is playing first in my opinion. The NFL took about a couple of weeks to start looking normal. Both sides are going to come out rusty and slow no matter who was practicing before the other. Heck, either team could take on Boise State in week one and it could be a toss-up. 

Q: I know it’s barely the first game, but what is the biggest difference between Hawai’i’s team last season and this season?

A: Number one, we lost both our head coach in Nick Rolovich and our starting quarterback Cole McDonald. So, the casual fan who doesn’t follow Hawai’i football might think another over .500 season is in the rearview mirror. However, our biggest gains are our new head coach Todd Graham and new starting quarterback Chevan Cordeiro. 

Todd Graham is a name fans of the Pac-12 might remember for helping bring back Arizona State and Tulsa football in the 2000s and ’10s. He’s bringing his own version of the run-and-shoot offense, but it’s going to resemble a vertical spread to incorporate all the dynamic wide receivers we have. 

Next on that list is Chevan Cordeiro. He’s our redshirt sophomore who was raised in Hawai’i and should be one of the better quarterbacks in the Mountain West. He’s 4-0 as a starter, and the closest thing he has to a loss is when he almost had the comeback against your Fresno State Bulldogs last year. So, we are very excited to see where these two pick up where the others left off. 

Q: Who are some impact players on offense?

A: Skill players? It’s gotta be a toss-up between Miles Reed and Jared Smart. Miles Reed is coming off an amazing debut season, and behind one of the best offensive lines in the conference, I’m confident that he’ll exceed expectations this season.

Another returner is Jared Smart. He was a part of the amazing wide receiver trio last season that had three 1000-yard wide receivers. There’s no question he’s going to be the No. 1 choice for Cordeiro, alongside our hero from the BYU game Nick Mardner, and grad-transfer Rico Bussey.

Q: Who are some impact players on defense?

A: A big surprise for Hawai’i is going to be their revitalized defense led by defensive coordinator Victor Santa Cruz, former Rainbow Warrior in the ’90s and Azusa Pacific head coach.

We’ve seen with the depth charts how important speed and physicality is. And seeing the return of Penei Pavihi is going to be very uplifting for the team.

Pavihi was supposed to start last year, but he ended up tearing his ACL. This year, not only is he back, but Santa Cruz has him and standout sophomore linebacker Darius Muasau as defensive ends. We want speed and strength, and we won’t know how successful these changes are until Saturday.

Q: Dior Scott was a fan favorite this past season of “Last Chance U.” I personally got to cover him when he played at Deer Valley High School (Antioch, Calif.). Do you think he will make an immediate impact on the team?

A: I think everyone wants to see him succeed. But with the vast amount of speedy, dynamic receivers we have, Scott is probably going to be seen in flashes throughout the year.

Q: Graham is entering his first season as the Rainbow Warriors’ head coach. What do you think is the best aspect he brings with him to Hawai’i?

A: Experience. With the money Hawai’i can give out, we aren’t attracting any big fish. Graham is coming in with years of expertise and success from mid-level programs like Rice, Tulsa, Pitt and Arizona State.

Q: Graham has been away from football for about two years. Do you think he had any rust or has his return been smooth?

A: Watching footage from practice, you wouldn’t be able to tell. The guy is kicking and screaming at the team and is handling the Hawai’i media as well as Rolo (Rolovich) did. But Hawai’i fans will know, if you’re going to talk up a storm and not succeed, like Norm Chow or Greg McMackin, you’re going to be snuffed out quick.

Q: What was the reaction like when Rolovich left to coach at Washington State? Did any players transfer as a result?

A: We didn’t see any players transfer because of it. I think the team is fired up even more because Rolo left us with something to work with. We had a bad bunch of years since June Jones left in the 2000s, and seeing the success that Rolo left us with made players and fans alike glad that he has the chance to succeed in a Power 5, making some more money along the way. 

Q: ESPN gave Fresno State a 70% chance to win this game. Do you agree with this prediction?

A: I think the game is going to be 50-50, but ESPN and national media outlets never favored Hawai’i in the last decade. The teams are going to be improving as the game goes on, but I give the biased edge to Hawai’i, 31-28.

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