Warriors open fall practices

Updated: August 7, 2003, 2:41 AM ET

HONOLULU -- As Hawaii began fall workouts Wednesday, things only appeared to be similar to the opening days of past years.

Quarterback Timmy Chang was looked upon as the team's leader. Clad in his traditional, faded black sweats, coach June Jones barked instructions at the offense. And, as usual, the dreaded 220-yard sprints left players gasping for air.

But this camp is unlike any other for the Warriors.

Chang is being touted by the school as a Heisman hopeful, the Warriors are favored to win the Western Athletic Conference and there is a 6-foot-8 Hawaii basketball player running around on the field.

"It's different, but it's awesome," said Nkeruwem Akpan, who averaged 7.5 points and 4.6 rebounds last season for the Hawaii basketball team. "It's like being a gladiator. You come out and try to dominate."

Akpan, who has never played football in his life, said he wants to learn the game and hopefully get some playing time as a defensive end.

The Warriors practiced in helmets and will go to shoulder pads Friday. They have 22 practice days before the Aug. 30 season opener at Aloha Stadium against Division I-AA Appalachian State.

Chang, one of the 14 returning starters from last year's 10-4 squad, said he has been looking forward to this season since the Warriors lost in the inaugural Hawaii Bowl on Christmas Day.

"Ever since December 25th ended, I think mentally, I was getting ready and getting more prepared," the junior said. "Watching the rest of the bowl games and going through spring without taking a snap, it just made me more hungry to be out here."

Chang, who threw for 4,474 yards and 25 touchdowns in 14 games last season, said the toughest part of the first day was completing the 10 timed 220-yard sprints, which he failed to do as a freshman.

"It's a great feeling coming out to the field and dressing up and being with the guys, but it was rough," he said.

Cornerback Hyrum Peters agreed.

"You may be fat, you may be skinny, you may be fast, but no matter what, it's all in the mind," he said. "You just got to do it without questioning yourself. I'm happy it's over."

Chang said he is already getting ribbed by teammates about the Heisman promotion by the school.

"Everyday, they make comments here and there. It's funny and joking, but a lot of guys are real serious about it," he said. "I think some of them take it even more serious than me."

Jones, who has yet to sign his new $4 million contract, said the offense looks faster and improved.

He said getting the new players integrated in the system will be one of the first priorities.

"Offensively, we're going to try and have everything in (place) probably by the first week," he said. "Their heads will be swimming for another week after that."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index