HONOLULU – After a full week of work, the Polynesian Bowl has finally arrived, and Friday evening the two teams will get their opportunity to square off at Kunuiakea Stadium. The rosters have continued to expand with delays causing some players to push their arrivals until later in the week, but both rosters are stacked with talent on each side of the ball.
Rivals has been in attendance for each practice throughout the week, and there have been plenty of storylines to follow.
There will be plenty to see come 4 p.m. HST as Team Makai and Team Mauka take the field.
Receivers have dominated the week
Both teams are stacked at the receiver position, and nearly all of them have found a way to stand out throughout the four practices leading into Friday’s matchup. Five-star Mike Matthews (Tennessee) and Oregon State signee Jordan Anderson are the two highest-rated players for Team Makai, which also features Notre Dame-bound pass catcher Logan Saldate.
Team Mauka features Rivals100 recruits Terry Bussey (Texas A&M commit) and Bryant Wesco (Clemson) along with Rivals250 UCLA signee Kwazi Gilmer.
Each of the players listed above has made highlight plays, but Gilmer has been the most consistent of the group through the four practices. Just exactly which player has the best game will be something to keep an eye on Friday.
Defensive linemen get their chance for contact
To preserve the health of the players, some of whom are already enrolled in college and are beginning offseason workouts, there was not much contact allowed during the four practices this week. The teams only put on shoulder pads one day this week, and it was clear that some of the defensive players were ready to begin having a bit more physicality added on the field.
Up front, the two highest-rated defensive tackles — Oklahoma signee David Stone and Miami signee Justin Scott — will take the field Friday. Stone has had an impressive showing this week for Team Makai and has played both on the interior and as an edge rusher at times. Scott has been disruptive along the line of scrimmage batting down passes and creating problems for the Team Mauka offensive line.
Tennessee signee Jordan Ross, Michigan signee Deyvid Palepale and Miami-bound edge rusher Booker Pickett are some of the other defensive linemen to watch Friday. Each has had bright moments throughout the week.
Tennessee will be in the spotlight
Josh Heupel and his staff will certainly have an eye on NFL Network during Friday’s game as the Vols have five players participating in the game. In addition to Ross and Matthews, quarterback Jake Merklinger, offensive lineman Bennett Warren and linebacker Edwin Spillman are all in Honolulu for the event.
Spillman and Ross will get an opportunity to work together on the same defense Friday while Warren has had his opportunity to block for Merklinger throughout the week. Matthews is the lone Tennessee signee not playing for Team Mauka, but that means the Vols are guaranteed to come out a winner in Hawaii.
All five players have certainly stood out at their positions but Matthews has been the most impressive with his play at the receiver position.
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Under-the-radar players to watch
While there are plenty of big names on each of the two teams at the Polynesian Bowl, the beauty of the event is it gives some recruits an opportunity to be in the spotlight who might not otherwise have that chance.
There are a number of players from the Hawaiian islands participating this week as well as prospects a little lower in the Rivals rankings who have been able to test themselves against some of their counterparts in the Rivals250.
Among the players who have made their presence felt this week include Washington State-bound cornerback Kayo Patu, BYU receiver signee Tei Nacua, UNLV linebacker signee Charles Correa, Michigan State edge rusher signee Kekai Burnett and Arizona defensive back signee Rahshawn Clark.
Brandon Baker leads a talented group of offensive linemen
Texas signee Brandon Baker is the highest-rated offensive lineman participating in the event this week. The No. 18 prospect has backed up his ranking so far looking like the best player at his position through the four practices. He’s worked at different spots throughout the week but was at right tackle to end the final practice.
Because contact was so limited throughout the week, Friday’s game will be the best opportunity to see how the offensive linemen stack up and there are plenty of big names to watch in addition to Baker.
Four-stars Michael Uini (Georgia) and Paki Finau (Washington) plus Penn State signee Donovan Harbour have all had strong showings this week for Team Makai while Warren, Rivals100 member DeAndre Carter and USC-bound Justin Tauanuu highlight Team Mauka.