HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Back in 2001, along with offensive lineman Brian Smith and wide receiver Craig Stutzmann, University of Hawaii head football coach Nick Rolovich spent countless hours lined up against former safety Abraham Elimimian and the U.H. defense.
"This grass field was some of the greatest memories of my life," Rolovich told reporters after Thursday's practice. "Don't tell my wife and my kids... I wish I didn't have to go to a [junior college] and had come here for four years."
Considering Rolovich's fondness for those times, it should come as little surprise to those who followed his college career that the hirings of several former teammates have created an atmosphere in which competition -- and cohesion -- will be able to thrive.
"The first time you come back out here [to the practice field] in the morning, you get a little bit of goose bumps," said Smith, now the team's running backs coach and run game coordinator. "But it feels good. It feels like home."
Smith, a Warrior between 1998 and 2001, and Craig Stutzmann, who joined Hawaii the same year Smith did, played for the Warriors during the 0-12 campaign in 1999 under Fred von Appen. Together, they experienced the lowest of lows, but were both present for the hiring of June Jones and the bowl season that followed in 2001.
"You know, when we get out to practice, or we're sitting in meetings, you can just feel the spirit of togetherness," said Stutzmann, who Rolovich has tasked with coordinating the team's passing attack. "We get onto the field, and it's competing, but it becomes fun, because you know those guys."
Stutzmann and Rolovich, who worked closely as teammates, continue to do so as coaches.
"Sometimes we're on the side, and he's throwing balls to me, it just feels like the last however many years it's been, whether it's 18 years, 17 years, it feels like it was 17 days ago," Stutzmann said.
While Stutzzman was catching passes during practice, defensive backs coach Abraham Elimimian was busy trying to break them up. He says their battles in practice back then have already resumed, though this time as coaches.
"One on ones, we pretty much locked them down defensive back wise, and then they got after us during team," said Elimimian. "And that's the way it was when we were playing. If Rolo would throw a touchdown, I'd come back and say okay, I got you next play. But it's all for the team."
Hawaii's next opportunity for competition comes on Saturday, when the Rainbow Warriors will partake in their first padded practice of the spring session.