December 28, 2007

Hawaii Notebook: Haka or Ha'a?

NEW ORLEANS - Will it be the Haka or the Ha'a? Hawaii defensive lineman Michael Lafaele isn't saying.

Regardless, Lafaele said the Warriors will have their dancing shoes on prior to Tuesday's Sugar Bowl game against 4th-ranked Georgia.

"We're not sure," Lafaele laughed. "We may do both of them."

For those unfamiliar with either ritual, the Haka is a dance developed by New Zealand tribesmen preparing for battle. The Ha'a, Lafaele explained, is a Hawaiian war dance, albeit a bit milder than the Haka, which features a throat-slashing movement deemed as taunting and unsportsmanlike by the NCAA.

Prior to their Sept. 8 game at Louisiana Tech, the Warriors were hit with a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty for doing the Haka. Since then, Hawaii players started doing the Ha'a.

The Warriors are not supposed to do either dance in front of the opposing team, although Lafaele insists neither dance is meant to be disrespectful.

"It's just a war dance we use to get us ready, to get us ready for war, for battle. That's all it is," he said. "We're not trying to taunt the other team or call the other team out. It's just a way to express our emotions."

With many players from Polynesian backgrounds, both dances are also a source of island pride.

"It's big, especially for the local boys. It's something that's a part of us growing up," Lafaele said. "That's part of our culture and something we want to share with everybody."

The Warriors did a warmup Haka prior to the team's practice Friday in nearby Metairie.
"We practice it during camp, but we do it during our own time," Lafaele said. "We take the initiative to teach younger guys."
Of course, some Warriors are better dancers than others.

Sophomore tackle Aaron Kia is one.

"Aaron's the guy you see in all the newspapers. He's always up front," Lafaele said. "He's the guy with all the paint on his face. He uses a sharpie to draw."

Lafaele said he has yet to see Georgia's version of rapper Soulja Boy's Crank Dat, but has seen the dance before.

"I've seen the dance but I've never seen them do it," Lafaele said.

As for any potential pre-game dance-off between the Warriors and the Bulldogs:

"I'm pretty sure we would," he said. "But we've got a lot of good dancers on this team."

Newberry knows Stafford well

Not all the Warriors are unfamiliar with Georgia.

In fact, Hawaii senior cornerback and Denton, Texas native Myron Newberry is quite familiar with Bulldog quarterback Matthew Stafford, having gone against Stafford's Highland Park team in the 2003 state semifinals at Texas Stadium.

"We won 42-21," said Newberry, who attended Denton Ryan High. "I just remember him as being a big, ole sophomore. He threw a touchdown pass on the first play of the game on a fade route."

Newberry said he hasn't met Stafford personally.

"I don't know him just that I played against him," said Newberry, who is tied for team lead with four interceptions. "But looking at him on film, it looks like he's gotten a lot bigger, and a lot faster."

Smith a peach in pineapple country

Redshirt freshman and Marietta native Spencer Smith joked about the way he become interested in playing football for Hawaii.

"I used to be Hawaii all the time when I played (Playstation) NCAA Football," he said.

The fact that his father knew former Warrior defensive coordinator Jerry Glanville didn't hurt, either.

"My dad took at tape to Coach Glanville at his home, and he liked it," Smith said. "Things just went from there."

No stranger to the Bulldogs, Smith played youth football with Georgia redshirt sophomore Vernon Spellman.

"I know of a few other guys. Caleb King is one because he was a really good running back when I was there," said Smith, a graduate of Kell High.

As for playing the Bulldogs:

"Ever since that G went up on the board during the bowl announcement my phone hasn't stopped ringing," Smith said. "I've been getting calls, text messages, you name it. I guess everyone is excited to see me get to play against the home-state team."

Jones says Warriors ready

Hawaii coach June Jones said there's not much more his players can do to prepare for their Sugar Bowl matchup with Georgia.

"We did all the game-planning before we got here and now we're just making sure that we hit everything over and over and over," Jones said prior to Friday's practice in Metairie. "We've got three more good, solid practices so we'll be sure we hit all that stuff."

Jones said his team will be under a curfew after not having one its first two nights in New Orleans.

"We're back on regular legs now, too," Jones said. "We've had two days to sleep and get caught up. We're there."

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