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The islands of Hawaii are known for their beautiful beaches, lush landscapes, and vibrant culture. But did you know that football is also a popular sport in the Aloha State? If you’ve ever wondered where Hawaii’s football teams compete, this article will provide the answers.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: The University of Hawaii has had an NCAA Division I college football team since 1909 that plays home games at the Clarence T.C. Ching Athletic Complex in Honolulu on the island of Oahu.

Brief History of Football in Hawaii

Popularity of high school football

High school football has long been extremely popular in Hawaii. Games routinely draw thousands of enthusiastic fans and intense local media coverage. Powerhouse programs like Saint Louis School in Honolulu, which has won the most state championships, create immense community pride.

The highlight of the season is the First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA State Football Championships in December, where island champions face off in a thrilling tournament.

University of Hawaii football program

The University of Hawaii Warriors football program has seen its ups and downs since beginning play in 1909, but has created many memorable moments for local fans. Under coach June Jones from 1999-2007, the Warriors experienced their greatest period of success, posting several double-digit win seasons, conference championships, and Hawaii’s first BCS bowl game appearance after an undefeated 2007 regular season.

Venues and Conferences

Aloha Stadium

Aloha Stadium, located in Halawa near Honolulu, is the largest sports venue in Hawaii. Since it opened in 1975, Aloha Stadium has hosted University of Hawaii football games, the NFL’s Pro Bowl, and major concerts.

With a seating capacity over 50,000, Aloha Stadium used to be one of the top venues for college football in the United States. However, due to aging infrastructure, there are plans to demolish the stadium and build a smaller, more modern facility.

Clarence T.C. Ching Athletic Complex

The Clarence T.C. Ching Athletic Complex, located on the campus of the University of Hawaii in Manoa, is a multi-purpose stadium mainly used for university events and recreation. The grass field and track stadium seats about 9,000 spectators.

In addition to University of Hawaii Athletics events, high school state championship games are sometimes played at Ching Complex when Aloha Stadium is unavailable. The stadium offers nice views of the Manoa valley and is where the university’s football team practices.

Mountain West Conference

The University of Hawaii’s football team competes in NCAA Division I FBS as part of the Mountain West Conference. Since 2012, Hawaii has been in the Mountain West Conference – also referred to as the MW – along with 11 other western schools including Boise State, Fresno State, San Diego State and Wyoming.

Hawaii is geographically isolated in the Pacific, making travel difficult and costly for away games. They are allowed to play only a half Mountain West schedule as a result. But the beauty of the islands and strong local support for Hawaii football continue to attract conference opponents each season.

Key Players and Coaches

Notable former Hawaii players

The University of Hawaii football program has produced several standout players over the years that went on to have successful careers in the NFL. Some of the most notable former Hawaii players include:

  • Davone Bess – Wide receiver who played for Hawaii from 2005-2007. He finished his college career with over 4,000 receiving yards and set the school record for career touchdown catches with 41. Bess went on to play 7 seasons in the NFL with the Miami Dolphins and Cleveland Browns.
  • Ashley Lelie – Wide receiver who played for Hawaii from 1997-2000. He set the school records for receiving yards in a season (1,752) and career receiving yards (4,345). Lelie was selected in the 1st round of the 2002 NFL Draft by the Denver Broncos and played 7 seasons in the league.
  • Travis LaBoy – Defensive end who was a consensus All-American for Hawaii in 2003. He recorded 27 sacks over his Hawaii career. LaBoy was a 2nd round pick in the 2004 NFL Draft and played 8 seasons with the Tennessee Titans, Arizona Cardinals, and San Francisco 49ers.

In recent years, Hawaii has also produced NFL talents like Jahlani Tavai, Marcus Mariota, and Tyson Alualu. The program has a strong history of developing players for the next level.

Head coaches over the years

The Hawaii football program has been led by some innovative head coaches that implemented creative offensive schemes. Some of the most influential Hawaii head coaches include:

  • June Jones – Hawaii’s head coach from 1999-2007. He installed a run and shoot offense that produced some of the highest scoring teams in college football history. Jones led Hawaii to its first BCS bowl game appearance in the 2007 Sugar Bowl against Georgia.
  • Dick Tomey – Head coach of Hawaii football from 1977-1986. Tomey guided Hawaii to several winning seasons in the late 1970s and early 1980s, including a Pacific-10 conference championship in 1981. His 46 wins remain the 5th most in school history.
  • Greg McMackin – Took over the Hawaii program in 2008 after serving as the team’s defensive coordinator for many years. As head coach from 2008-2011, his teams won 29 games and made a bowl appearance every year. The team finished with a 10-4 record and Hawaii Bowl win in his first season.

The current Hawaii head coach is Timmy Chang, the former record-setting Hawaii quarterback who is now trying to lead his alma mater back to national prominence. With its unique island culture and passionate fan base, Hawaii football continues to develop talented players and coaches even if it is far removed from the mainland.

Best Seasons and Key Games

2007 Sugar Bowl appearance

The 2007 Hawaii Rainbow Warriors football team had an incredible undefeated 12-0 regular season under head coach June Jones. Led by quarterback Colt Brennan, Hawaii’s high-powered run and shoot offense was nearly unstoppable, averaging over 40 points per game.

The key wins that year came against Boise State (35-28), Nevada (28-26), and Washington (35-28). Their success earned them a spot in the 2008 Sugar Bowl against Georgia, where they lost 41-10. Still, it was a historic season that brought lots of excitement and attention to the Hawaii football program.

Undefeated regular season in 2007

As mentioned above, Hawaii went 12-0 during the 2007 regular season under June Jones. Some key stats and games from that incredible undefeated run:

  • QB Colt Brennan set NCAA records with 58 touchdown passes and a 186.0 passer rating.
  • WRs Ryan Grice-Mullen and Davone Bess both had over 1,000 receiving yards and 12 TDs.
  • Beat UNLV (49-14), Idaho (53-10), New Mexico State (50-13) – high scoring affairs!
  • Narrow win over Louisiana Tech (28-26) showed their grit and ability to close out games.
  • Last second field goal to beat San Jose State (42-35) and preserve the undefeated season.

That team truly had a magical year. Brennan, Bess and many others created memories that will live on forever in Hawaii football lore. While they came up short in the Sugar Bowl, no one can take away their perfect 12-0 regular season.


While Hawaii may be far from the mainland and lacks a professional football team, the sport still elicits passion among both locals and visitors. The island spirit infuses the University of Hawaii football program and its vocal supporters.

Mahalo for learning more about where Hawaii plays this iconic American pastime.

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