HONOLULU — The first Wednesday in February, otherwise known as National Letter of Intent Signing Day, can annually be considered the happiest day in college football.
It is a day when “everybody is a winner”: the coaches who believe they have secured their programs’ and personal future, the student-athletes who are taking the first exciting step toward a new chapter in their life, and most definitely the parents, who burst with pride and a big collective sigh of relief knowing their sons’ college education will be paid for by someone else.
“We’re excited about our class this year, we’ve got a large class (29 players),” said then-University of Hawaii head coach Greg McMackin, on Signing Day (Feb. 4) 2009. “The coaches again worked very hard for a year recruiting these guys. You really don’t know how guys play for you until they get on the field between the white lines. So, I don’t ever go out and say this is the greatest class, or this is going to be the greatest class ever. I know it’s a quality class, guys who want to go to school and get their degrees. I’ve been in every home of the players we’ve recruited and met their parents, great families and good people.”
McMackin’s words — “You really don’t know how guys play for you until they get on the field between the white lines” — proved to be prophetic. Recruiting services, media outlets and fans routinely evaluate Signing Day results immediately, proclaiming a certain school’s class as an “A” or “C” or “great” or “so-so.”
But as McMackin alluded, the true value of any year’s recruiting class cannot be accurately measured until five years later, when almost every player’s eligibility has expired. Only then can the contributions of all 25 scholarship players be evaluated fairly.
So with that in mind, now is the time to grade UH’s 2009 recruiting class.
Quarterbacks (3), David Graves, Corey Nielsen and Cayman Schutter: Of the three, only Graves saw significant action and finished his career as a seldom-used receiver, of all things. He graduated and spent last season as quarterbacks coach at the Kamehameha Schools. Nielsen appeared in only one game and transferred to St. Francis (Pa.) in 2011. Schutter saw minimal action in three years and bypassed his senior season in order to try out for the Canadian Football League.
Running backs (3), Chizzy Dimude, Alex Green and John Lister: Dimude and Green were junior college transfers. Green had two productive seasons and ended up in the NFL. Dimude was a backup. Lister excelled in special teams but opted to pursue graduate school after earning his degree in four years.
Receivers (4), Rodney Bradley, Deondre Powell, Destin Stewart and Billy Ray Stutzmann: Bradley was a JC transfer who was productive despite major injuries; he spent 2011 on the Baltimore Ravens practice squad before being released in 2012. Powell ended up at a JC and never played for UH. Neither did Stewart, who did not meet UH’s admission standards and ended up at Tulsa. Stutzmann had a productive career despite several injuries.
Offensive linemen (4), Brett Leonard, Jordan Loeffler, Benson Maafala and Chauncy Winchester-Makainai: Leonard was a JC transfer who ended up starting at guard. Loeffler, a Hilo High grad, grayshirted his first year and redshirted in 2010, so he had one year of eligibility remaining, but he missed all of last season with a knee injury. Maafala did not qualify academically. Winchester-Makainai was a starter as a junior but his senior year was cut short by injury.
Defensive linemen (4), David Hafoka, Marcus Malepeai, Veni Manu and Zach Masch: Hafoka was a JC transfer and ended up starting his senior year. Malepeai grayshirted his first year so he still has one year of eligibility remaining — he has been a part-time starter at defensive tackle. Manu initially did not meet NCAA eligibility requirements, qualified in 2010, but quit the team afterward. Masch was a JC transfer who became a starter and NFL draft prospect.
Linebackers (3), T.J. Alofipo, George Daily-Lyles and Chad Lopati: Alofipo did not qualify academically. Daily-Lyles became a part-time starter as a redshirt freshman and had a productive career. Lopati also did not qualify academically.
Defensive backs (8), Kamalani Alo, Kalani Brackenridge, Aaron Brown, Lametrius Davis, Tank Hopkins, Joey Iosefa, Aulola Tonga and Mike Wadsworth. Alo later converted to linebacker and contributed greatly as a part-time starter and on special teams. Brackenridge was a reserve outfielder on the UH baseball team. Brown, a JC transfer, was an All-Western Athletic Conference first-team selection as a senior and was drafted in the seventh round by the St. Louis Rams. Davis, also a JC transfer, started at cornerback but had an injury-plagued senior season. Hopkins, yet another JC transfer, also started at cornerback. Iosefa grayshirted his first year, converted to running back and has been a three-year starter and major contributor with one season of eligibility remaining. Tonga left the team before the 2011 season and later transferred to Missouri Southern. Wadsworth transferred to Brigham Young after serving a two-year church mission.
Here is an after-the-fact evaluation of Hawaii’s 2009 football recruiting class: 29 players signed, nine of whom never played a down for the Rainbow Warriors, including four who were academically ineligible and never enrolled at UH.
Of the 20 who played, three (Green, Brown and Bradley) made the NFL, one (Brown) was an All-WAC first-team pick and 13 ended up as starters at one point or another. Iosefa and Malepeai still have eligibility and can contribute further to the program.
But with the 2009 class heavy on JC transfers, it obviously benefited McMackin in his peak season of 2010 (going 10-4 with a Sheraton Hawaii Bowl appearance), but hurt him (6-7 in 2011) and Norm Chow (3-9 in 2012, and 1-11 in 2013) in the long term.
Overall, a grade of C or C-minus might be fair. OK at best, but at worst definitely not one of UH’s more successful or productive classes overall.