HONOLULU - Just a month into the job, new University of Hawaii football coach Norm Chow on Wednesday announced the commitments of 18 players on national signing day, including 14 high school seniors and four transfers.
The transfers include former Ohio State quarterback Taylor Graham, who must sit out this season. The 6-foot-4, 230-pound junior is the son of former NFL quarterback Kent Graham, who played 11 seasons and was a starter for the New York Giants and Pittsburgh Steelers.
Chow's other signees include three of the top isle prep prospects, including Kahuku linebacker Benetton Fonua, Punahou running back Steven Lakalaka and Kamehameha Kapalama offensive lineman Kiha Sai.
"We're proud of this group. We're excited about what lies ahead," Chow said.
He called Lakalaka a "big get" for the program. Lakalaka rushed for 1,154 yards and 12 touchdowns, leading the Buffanblu to the state title game.
Chow also raved about Fonua as a player and person.
"I tell you what, they don't come any better than that. ... He'll be a leader for us," Chow said.
Fonua anchored the Red Raiders' defense, which held teams to an average of 6.8 points a game, and helped Kahuku win its first state championship since 2006.
Chow said his priority was to recruit local players, saying he was going to work "inside-out." He was pleased with this year's crop of five players.
Eleven of Chow's recruits are offensive players, while seven are defensive.
Chow said he had to hit the ground running since he had no time. He just hired his assistants last month, and none of them have had a chance to find a home yet. Chow is sleeping at his daughter's house, and in his office.
"We feel good about (the class), we really do, and we're going to get a better jump next fall. We already have. We talked to a bunch of coaches and evaluated some juniors," he said. "When we got here in January, 90 percent of the local players had already committed. That didn't deter us. We'll be known as relentless recruiters."
He acknowledged recruiting here is more challenging than when he was at Southern California.
"(At USC), we didn't recruit. We evaluated. We needed not to (make) mistakes evaluating," he said. "Well, it's not quite like that here. Until we get to where we want to go, it's going to be difficult. It's difficult, but no more difficult than anywhere else, other than USC."
Chow opened his press conference by mentioning Alabama, and noting that this year's national championship team was the 2008 recruiting class.
"Let's judge this a couple years from now," he said. "Let's get our players going - the players we have in the program right now."
While the incoming freshman will take time, the three junior college transfers could make an impact right away.
They include Cerritos College tight end Clark Evans, who helped the Falcons capture their second straight Northern Conference championship and appearance in the Southern California title game. He had 31 catches for 444 yards and a team-high nine touchdowns.
Besides Evans, Hawaii was looking to load up with tight ends, adding Harold Moleni and Ethan Watanabe. Moleni signed with Utah State out of high school but is joining Hawaii after serving a two-year church mission.
Hawaii hasn't had a tight end in more than a decade. The Warriors operated the pass-heavy run-and-shoot since 1999 under former coaches June Jones and Greg McMackin. Chow, meanwhile, runs a pro-style offense - which helped develop four Heisman Trophy winners: Ty Detmer, Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush.
With his decades of experience on the West Coast, Chow recruited several players from California and Utah. The California players include defensive lineman Dejon Allen, Leo Koloamatangi and defensive back Ronald Fields. Allen and Fields chose Hawaii over Pac-12 schools.
"The key was to hold onto them," Chow said. "That was really tough in the last few days because people started losing some of their recruits, they came after ours. Just like we were going after theirs."
Besides Graham, two other recruits are sons of former NFL players - cornerback Anthony Pierce, son of former Giants linebacker Antonio Pierce, and Jerrol Garcia-Williams, son of former Steelers linebacker Jerrol Williams. Also, Watanabe's uncle is Kansas City Chiefs tight end Tony Moeaki.
Chow said he recruited for character, in addition to playing ability.
"It's easy to recruit jerks. We want high character people. We want good students," he said.