HONOLULU -- As a freshman, quarterback Timmy Chang was given the key responsibility of leading pass-happy Hawaii.
The difference this season? Now he wants the role.
"I think the leadership role fell onto me, but I feel I wasn't ready at that time," Chang said. "Now I have all this experience and know how to act mentally and physically. So my confidence shows on the field."
But Chang won't be on the field when Hawaii opens the season on Saturday at home against Division I-AA Appalachian State.
The NCAA on Thursday declared him ineligible for one game this year for violating an academic policy by playing in last year's Hawaii Bowl without having completed six credits in the fall term leading up to the postseason contest.
He's eligible to return for the Warriors' second game, a Sept. 13 matchup at No. 8 Southern Cal.
Chang will look to pick up where he left off last season, when he led the Warriors to a 10-4 season and finished second in the nation in passing yards (4,474), and fourth in total offense (318.4 yards per game). He threw 25 touchdowns but also had 22 passes intercepted.
This season, Hawaii is favored to win the Western Athletic Conference. The school is also promoting the junior QB as a top candidate for the Heisman Trophy, highlighting the possibility he may eventually break Ty Detmer's 13-year-old NCAA single-season and career-passing marks.
Chang needs 6,417 yards in two seasons to break the career-passing record. The single-season record is 5,188 yards. Both are within reach under coach June Jones' run-and-shoot offense.
"If I take into the hype, it will become a distraction," he said. "But if I go out there and keep it simple and just remember what I got to do and what the school is giving me the scholarship for -- that's to get the ball in the end zone and win games -- then I think there will be no distractions.
"Heisman is an individual award and we're here as a team, so team success comes way before any Heisman talk."
With Chang's history of injuries, the question isn't whether he can break Detmer's records, but whether he can stay healthy long enough to give himself a shot at them.
After earning WAC freshman of the year honors, Chang was sidelined in the third game of 2001 with an injury to his throwing wrist. He was granted a medical hardship by the NCAA and allowed to return in 2002 as a sophomore.
He played through last season with a fractured pinky and a sprained knee. He was also knocked out in the second quarter of the Hawaii Bowl with an injured thumb on his throwing hand.
The 6-foot-2, 200-pound right hander said the injuries are behind him and aren't a factor on the field.
"If you think that out there, then you will get hurt," Chang said. "I just go out and I try to find the best way possible to get the ball to my receivers and that's it.
"I don't think what I'm going to do after the game. I don't think about my favorite TV show. I'm thinking about just getting the damn ball to the receivers."
Jones said he's seen Chang's maturity during fall camp.
"I think he's just grown up," Jones said. "He's taking it more serious. He's tougher and more physical than he was."
Chang has a talented corps of receivers, including Jeremiah Cockheran (49 receptions, 731 yards) and Britton Komine (58 receptions, 886 yards, 10 touchdowns). Speedy receivers Nate Ilaoa and Chad Owens, both hampered last year with injuries, are now back at full strength.
The biggest loss from last year's squad is on the offensive line.
Three offensive linemen graduated to the NFL, leaving a very young and inexperienced line with 308-pound Shayne Kajioka and 327-pound Uriah Moenoa as the only returning starters.
Freshmen Samson Satele and Dane Uperesa, both products of local high schools, are expected to start.
"They're coming along, but until we play games you just never know," Jones said.
Offensive line coach Mike Cavanaugh said he's been impressed with his young talent.
"It doesn't matter if you're run-and-shoot, wing-T or I-formation," he said. "The offensive line is going to be the starting block to any offense so it's very important we accept this challenge, work hard every day, fine tune our techniques and communicate."
The Warriors are also trying to compensate for the loss of linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa, who left Hawaii early for the NFL, and linebacker Chris Brown, who graduated. Not only did the two account for 215 tackles last season, they were the heart of the defense.
"They're gone and there's nothing we can do about it," cornerback Abraham Elimimian. "The new guys have to step up and take charge of the team."
Elimimian is one of four returning starters in the defensive backfield.
"This is, by far, the most talented group since I've been here in my 15-year career," secondary coach Rich Miano said.
For the first time, the Warriors will play six games on the road. At home, Hawaii will play on the newly installed FieldTurf that was demanded by Jones and the NFL.
In addition to Appalachian State and Southern Cal, Hawaii also plays Nevada-Las Vegas on the road before entering WAC play.
The Warriors close at home against Army, Alabama and defending WAC champion Boise State.
"Physically and athletically, this is the best team we've had," Jones said. "Whether that equates to wins remains to be seen, but I feel very good about where we're at and with the talent pool we have."
On the Net:
University of Hawaii Football: http://uhathletics.hawaii.edu/Sport/sport.html?p=3
This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index
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