Stephen Tsai: Recruiting getting more challenging for Rainbow Warriors

Feb. 6—Back in the day, college football recruiting could be practical.

In 1999, a wide receiver was debating between Hawaii and a school in the Midwest. June Jones, who was UH's head coach at the time, told the player: "Do you want to catch touchdown passes with us or block the safety 10 times a game?" Mark Tate chose the Rainbow Warriors.

It could be spiritual.

In 1993, a linebacker was deciding between UH and BYU. His father told him to pray on it. After a few days, the linebacker said he chose the Warriors. His father said: "Pray some more." The linebacker eventually picked BYU.

It could be instinctual.

In 2002, a UH coach's wife recommended a friend's son. Tala Esera signed with the Warriors and four years later was named to the All-WAC's first team as an offensive tackle.

A surfer/photographer told a UH coach that defensive end David Veikune, who transferred from Colorado to Fresno State, could sign with the Warriors without redshirting. Veikune joined UH — initially without a scholarship — and developed into a menacing pass rusher and eventual second-round pick by the Cleveland Browns.

It was radio personality Randy "Rand the Man" Miyamoto who alerted UH to the availability of a junior college quarterback. Colt Brennan became one of the greatest players in UH football history.

During a trip to American Samoa, Rich Miano, who was UH's associate head coach at the time, saw a 240-pound Samoana High student smashing kills on a dirt volleyball court in the pouring rain. Two years later, then Navy coach Kenny Niumatalolo told Miano to sign that student, who completed work on an associate degree at the College of the Canyons. Isa'ako "Isaac" Sopoaga turned down offers from USC, Miami and Washington to sign with the Warriors. Sopoaga, a defensive tackle, went on to play for the San Francisco 49ers.

But times have changed. With camps that are auditions, combines, Hudl videos, national services and "family advisers," there are few secrets in recruiting.

Until a decade ago, with scholarship limits and — wink, wink — every school playing by the same recruiting standards, UH had a relative even fight in the game. The Warriors played in a Pro Bowl stadium and the climate was balmier than Laramie's in November.

But now the Warriors are facing a changing landscape in which power conferences are becoming more powerful; Mountain West cohorts are spending more in resources; escalating NIL payouts; and the struggle to retain players because of the portal and lax transfer rules.

Those are among the concerns as the Warriors rebuild their recruiting department. Two key members have left UH — Nate Ilaoa to explore other endeavors; Savannah Reier to become USC's assistant director of recruiting operations. Reier held the title of UH's director of recruiting.

Keiki Misipeka, who coached UH's running backs the past two years, and Silas Clapham, the director of player personnel, are leading the recruiting department, which assists the position coaches.

Until a few years ago, UH focused on high school and junior college players. Now the Warriors devote equal time to identifying and evaluating players in the transfer portal. UH head coach Timmy Chang said the Warriors pare an initial list of prospects based on their academics, eligibility and athletic qualifications.

"There's a roster method to what you believe," Chang said. "If a guy falls off, who's next, and where's the development in that guy? There's a lot that goes into (recruiting). You can't miss on guys. They have to fit everything. They have to be able to perform. They have to fit in (with teammates). The uniqueness of our locker room and geographical location, we benefit having a culture the way we do."

Chang praised Reier, who grew up in Alabama, played basketball for the Rainbow Wahine, was a graduate assistant at Nevada, and returned to UH as director of personnel for the women's team. Among her duties with the football Warriors was coordinating the visits for recruits and their parents.

"There needs to be detail in how you recruit," Chang said. "The relationships that you build, the flow

and easiness. When parents come and they're giving us their 18- to 20-year-old young men, they want to know if they're going to be OK and they're going to be taken care of. That position is important. The initial set-up movement, getting them from Point A to Point B.

"She was the right person for the job," Chang added. "She's been through it. She brought a lot of value because she played here and been through the process and came from somewhere else. She knows how to handle the transition."

The search is underway for a replacement.

Wednesday is the first day of the spring-semester signing period for football prospects. Three recruits are set to ink letters of intent with the Warriors.