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Emerson steps up to fill the void on UH’s defense

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From the rubble of Saturday’s 55-10 road loss to Oregon, the Hawaii football team uncovered a defensive gem.

In a game where little went right, a bright performance came from weak-side linebacker Nalu Emerson, who started in place of Logan Taylor, the Warriors’ defensive and vocal leader who suffered a season-ending torn ACL a week earlier against Albany. Emerson and Justin Sinclair, who filled in for ailing safety Meki Pei, tied for the team high of eight tackles.

“It was pretty awesome how he stepped up in Logan’s place, and did not lose a step,” linebackers coach Chris Brown said of Emerson. “He did some stuff that was pretty amazing, like his movements and the tackles he made. He was able to configure his body to get in there and just take chances and throw his body like it ddn’t matter if he got hurt or not.”

Emerson, who was Kahuku High’s valedictorian in 2019, said his first UH start was “like I was at Laie Park playing with my boys, trying to fly around and make plays.”

Emerson practiced as a safety and played on the kickoff coverage unit when the UH coaches set long-term plans for each player last year. “When you look at the depth chart, and you look at guys playing certain positions, you look at moving people whom we believe have an opportunity to help our team.”

Last year, safeties Logan Taylor, Riley Wilson and Emerson were moved to linebacker to improve team speed. After Isaiah Tufaga suffered a season-ending injury, Taylor became the weak-side linebacker, recording double-digit tackles in each of his six starts last season. Wilson transferred to Montana in the offseason.

“Nalu brings a ton of athleticism into the linebacker unit,” defensive coordinator Jacob Yoro said. “Moving him in there, he’s done a great job with Coach CB in getting himself prepared and developing into a linebacker physically and mentally.”

Against Oregon, Brown wanted to rotate linebackers. Emerson kept trying to extend his turn.

“On the sideline, despite the score, I had to literally pull him back from getting on the field,” Brown said. “He wanted to be out there so bad. You could see he really loved being out there. He was grateful for his opportunity.”

To set practice assignments in training camp, the depth chart is posted. UH coaches emphasize the chart is not a final notice.

“That’s what we stress to these guys,” Yoro said. “Where you are on the depth chart in fall camp is not necessarily where you’re going to be on the depth chart in week 3 or week 8 or week 12. When your number is called, you have one opportunity to prove yourself. Nalu and Justin (Sinclair) have been able to prove themselves when their numbers were called.”

The Warriors play host to New Mexico State this Saturday in the fourth game of a six-game series.

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