'Bows, Suiaunoa defense adamant about improvement

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - On the first day of the 2017 football season, something stuck out to head coach Nick Rolovich.

Despite the loss of former defensive coordinator Kevin Lempa, the 'Bows defensive unit seemed much more prepared for play than perhaps the head coach expected.

Players on the defensive side of the ball say that level of readiness is something they expect from one another as they look to improve on their defensive numbers from last season.

"Last year was our transition stage. This year, we just want to make sure we perfect everything," said junior linebacker, Jahlani Tavai. "We're just making sure that the d-line is sound with linebackers, and the DBs are just doing what they do."

Under Legi Suiaunoa, last year's defensive line coach, the Rainbow Warrior defense is actually enjoying some continuity headed into the preseason. Lempa was the only loss; defensive backs coach Jacob Yoro, who filled the empty spot on the defense, is the only new face on the entire coaching staff.

"Well, obviously you've got to get better from the year before," said Suiaunoa. "Don't get it twisted, we went 7-7. We lost seven games. A couple of games we gave up 40 plus points. Those are things we got to improve on."

The 'Bows return a few key pieces this season that could help them improve on those numbers: Tavai, in particular was the teams only preseason all-Mountain West first-team selection.

The middle-linebacker was sixth in the conference and 29th in the nation, with 129 total tackles last year as a sophomore.

Hawaii also has an all-conference honorable mention safety in Trayvon Henderson, but the 'Bows are going to need some of their young talent to step up alongside Henderson this year. Three starters from last year's squad graduated, and Hawaii's DB corps is now dominated by youth.

There are also question marks along the defensive line. After losing Makani Kema-Kaleiwahea and Kory Rasmussen to graduation, the 'Bows are down two of their biggest leaders along the line and in the locker room.

What's more, the unit has lost three potential contributors for the 2017 season in recent weeks: freshman Kalepo Naotala suffered a spinal cord injury in a diving accident earlier this month, and both Kaau Gifford and Jamie Tago were recently both dismissed for violating team rules.

Still, Suiaunoa isn't making any excuses.

"It doesn't change much in terms of the expectation of what we need from that position," said the former defensive line coach. "Teams that we play against, UMass and them, they don't care what happened to us upfront. We just got to find guys. We have to be creative.

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