CONWAY -- The promise of a trip to Hawaii gives football programs like the University of Central Arkansas a little more recruiting leverage.
Beyond that, and the work involved with a game against the NCAA FBS-level Hawaii Rainbow Warriors, the very idea is a pleasure for at least a significant number of players, coaches and support crew involved.
UCA Coach Nathan Brown said when he walked into the team's video room Sunday morning to develop his assessment of last Saturday's 31-30 victory over Abilene Christian, UCA tight ends coach Brooks Hollingsworth -- in his 23rd season as a coach -- sat in front of a screen, already involved in his review of the game played the night before.
"That's Brooks," Brown said. "I knew he'd be there, but what stood out was that he was already wearing a Hawaiian shirt."
Hollingsworth was dressed in a bright, bold and flowery cotton and spandex shirt that contemporary mainland Americans have worn to luaus since they first learned of them.
"I said, 'Are you ready, coach?' '' Brown said. "He said, 'My bags are packed.' ''
Brown said the game will come first, but he said regardless of its importance, the trip to Hawaii was the sort of experience he wants for all of his players.
"We're going to enjoy it," Brown said. "Dr. [Athletic Director Brad] Teague does a great job of scheduling our games, and one of his core values is student-athlete experience. If this doesn't entail student-athlete experience, I don't know what does."
A luau and a trip to Pearl Harbor were among the scheduled pregame events. The long flight back is scheduled to begin Sunday morning, which will afford the traveling contingent some postgame free time.
"We want to soak it in, but I don't want them to treat it like we're on a vacation," Brown said. "We're going out there to play a football game. We want to put ourselves in the best position to try to win the game. We want to have a good time and enjoy it, but at the same time we're going out there to work."
Toughest test yet
UCA Coach Nathan Brown said Hawaii is by far the most talented opponent his team has faced this season.
Hawaii has played three games this season, each against schools from the FBS Pac-12, which is among the Power 5 conferences. Hawaii began its season with home-field victories over Arizona and Oregon State, followed by a loss at Washington, currently ranked 22nd by The Associated Press.
"They've had a very tough schedule," Brown said. "I think if you had told them they would be 2-1 going into the UCA game, I think they would've been pretty happy with that."
UCA is ranked No. 12 by FCS coaches, whose teams allot 22 fewer scholarships than FBS teams.
"Here at UCA we've always done a good job of pumping belief and knowing that we belong there," Brown said. "Belief can carry you a long way. When we put out 22 guys in our two-deep, we can go up against just about anybody in the country and hold our own. Now, that's not counting the top 10 or 15 or 20 programs in the country, but where those teams get the edge is usually late in the second half, where the depth kind of takes over."
Hawaii is also top-heavy with talent, led by junior quarterback Cole McDonald. He has passed for 1,017 yards and 9 touchdowns with 8 interceptions through Hawaii's three-game start.
"They want to throw the ball," Brown said. "That's been kind of their pedigree over the last 10 or 15 years. They have the skill guys that will scare you. They have the best personnel that we've played all year. There's no doubt about it."
Top young receivers
Before UCA's season began, Coach Nathan Brown spoke highly of two pass-catching underclassmen for whom he expressed extreme confidence.
Brown's optimism has met reality.
Last season, sophomore Lujuan Winningham caught 12 passes for 158 yards. Freshman Tyler Hudson played last season for Klein Oak High in Spring, Texas, where he had 85 catches for 1189 yards and 15 touchdowns.
"I knew in my heart they were good players," Brown said. "I just didn't know that with the way the flow of our offense has gone that their production would be so high."
Through three games, Winningham has 22 catches for 477 yards and 6 touchdowns. He is fourth in receptions in the Southland Conference. The 477 yards and 6 touchdowns lead the conference. Hudson is also among Southland leaders with 13 catches for 248 yards and 2 touchdowns, which rank 10th, 3rd and tied for 6th, respectively.
"They've earned the right to be go-to guys right now," Brown said.
Sports on 09/21/2019
Print Headline: UCA in Hawaii on business