Behind Enemy Bylines: Hawaii Rainbow Warriors

The Hustler goes Behind Enemy Bylines, interviewing Reece Nagaoka, sports editor of Ka Leo, Hawaii’s student newspaper, to preview Vanderbilt’s matchup with Hawaii.


Vanderbilt Athletics

AJ Swann gears up for a pass at team practice in Honolulu, Hawaii, on Aug. 22, 2022. (Photo courtesy of Vanderbilt Athletics)

Bryce Smith, Sports Editor

Vanderbilt landed in Honolulu, Hawaii, on Aug. 21, prepared to go to battle with the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors on Aug. 27. Both teams come into the Week 0 season opener with a myriad of unknowns.

Despite a 6-7 campaign in 2021, former Hawaii head coach Todd Graham resigned after the season amid a wave of transfers and criticism from his former players. The Rainbow Warriors appointed Timmy Chang the school’s 25th head coach in program history.

For its part, Vanderbilt will look to start the season on the right foot after infamously dropping last year’s opener 23-3 at the hands of ETSU. The Commodores will look to right the ship in 2022 and are focused on taking care of business in Hawaii after naming Mike Wright the starting quarterback over the summer. 

Prior to kickoff, The Hustler went Behind Enemy Bylines and interviewed Reece Nagaoka, sports editor of Ka Leo, Hawaii’s student newspaper, to preview Vanderbilt’s matchup with Hawaii.

The Vanderbilt Hustler: It was a pretty tumultuous offseason in Honolulu, leading to the firing of Todd Graham. Can you give us a bit more detail on what went down out there this winter? 

Reece Nagaoka: There was a lot that happened this winter surrounding the UH football program, but to sum it up, a lot of players entered the transfer portal, including UH’s starting quarterback (Chevan Cordeiro) and star linebacker (Darius Muasau). That and a Twitter space where players publicly vented their frustrations about Graham led the State Senate to hold a meeting where most of the oral testimony depicted Graham negatively and contributed to his resignation a week later.

Then, when it came to hiring the new head coach, the public wanted June Jones, who was the UH coach from 1999-2007. Contract negotiations broke down and Jones declined the job, resulting in more public outcry. Timmy Chang was officially hired as the 25th coach in UH history about 24 hours later.

VH: How has Chang been received in his tenure thus far? 

RN: From what I can tell, the fans, the players and the staff love Timmy Chang. He hasn’t been shy about his love for the state on social media, and he was already loved by the state from when he was a quarterback at UH 20 years ago. People are excited to have him back. 

Being a former UH player, I think he understands the expectations the state has for this program, and he and his staff have set goals, both on and off the field, to exceed them. They’ve achieved a lot off the field in terms of recruiting. It’s just a matter of seeing the results get produced on the field.

VH: Hawaii has rotated 4-5 quarterbacks throughout spring ball and summer camp. What’s the situation looking like as we near kickoff? 

RN: From an observer’s standpoint, the starting job is between sophomore Brayden Schager and Pitt transfer Joey Yellen. They’re the two quarterbacks who have received the majority of the first-team reps in fall camp. Washington State transfer Cammon Cooper’s dual-threat ability has put him in a position to be used for sub-packages, but it will probably be between Schager and Yellen on Saturday.

VH: Who are some other players to watch out for on the Rainbow Warriors? 

RN: There are so many newcomers that it’s hard to make a surefire prediction, but offensively, Missouri State transfer Jordan Murray has had a really good camp. He’s a wide receiver in a tight end’s body who creates big mismatches. Zion Bowens has been really good no matter who’s throwing him the football. With a veteran offensive line, the running backs Dedrick Parson, Nasjzae Bryant-Lelei and Tylan Hines could be something special.

Defensively, the front six which includes Blessman Taala, John Tuitupou and Penei Pavihi can stop the run game and rush the passer. Arkansas transfer Mataio Soli has been a really good rusher off the edge who can play every down. Iowa State transfer Virdel Edwards has transitioned from safety to cornerback for UH but still retains that hard hitting ability.

VH: Score prediction?

RN: 31-27, Hawaii

An earlier version of this story stated that Hawaii hired Timmy Chang 96 hours after the resignation of Todd Graham. The error has been updated.