CHARLESTON — Keith Uperesa has resided in a number of places in the West Coast. He's been at Brigham Young University, Idaho State, the University of Southern Cal, the University of Utah, the University of Las Vegas-Nevada and most recently, the University of Hawaii.

The closest Uperesa has been to the Midwest is a stint at Nicholls State from 2010-11, but Nicholls State is all the way down in Thibodaux, La.

Now Uperesa gets to experience what the Midwest has to offer. Eastern Illinois offensive coordinator Greg Stevens convinced the long-time offensive line coach to come to Charleston. Uperesa took Stevens up on the offer and he was hired as the new Eastern Illinois offensive line coach in February.

The good news for Uperesa, who grew up in Hawaii, is that he's used to the cold weather already since he worked in Utah and Idaho.

"I am looking forward to it and I am excited about the whole thing," Uperesa said. "It ventures into a new area for me in this part of the country at least. I am very close with Greg Stevens and he played for me back in the (junior college) days and then coached with me for a year. We just kept in contact throughout the years."

Uperesa is one of five new coaches for EIU along with defensive coordinator Cary Fowler, defensive line coach Kwahn Drake, cornerbacks coach Alvah Hansbro and tight ends coach Ethan Hutson. Jordan Davis is the new strength coach and Matt Wright is the new director of football operations.

EIU head coach Kim Dameron said Uperesa follows a long line of great offensive line coaches in Panther history.

"He was available and coach Stevens knew him for many years so he has a good comfort level with him," Dameron said. "We were very glad to get him and his expertise. His coaching style is different than some others, but that's good. His resume is ridiculous." 

Uperesa played for BYU from 1974-77 and played three seasons in the NFL for Oakland Raiders and Denver Broncos. He and his wife Kaipo have three children. His son, Ikaika, played football at Idaho State and he has two daughters, Naupaka and Kahikole. Naupaka played women's basketball at Norfolk State and Cal State Dominguez Hills.

After Uperesa became a graduate assistant at BYU, he went to Snow College, a JUCO program, for 12 seasons. He became the head coach in 1995 and he racked up a 35-8 record in five seasons. He then went to Idaho State from 1999-2000 as the offensive line coach and offensive coordinator and the Tigers were in the top 20 in the FCS in passing both seasons.

From 2001-02, Uperesa served as the offensive line coach and worked with the tackles and tight ends at USC. The Trojans won the Orange Bowl in 2003. He then spent one season at El Camino Community College before moving on to Utah as the offensive line coach and tight ends coach in 2004. Utah went undefeated and won the Fiesta Bowl under then head coach Urban Meyer.

Uperesa was at UNLV from 2005-09 as the offensive line coach before spending 2010-11 at Nicholls State as the associate head coach and offensive line coach. In 2012, Uperesa went to Hawaii as the running backs coach before serving as the director of player personnel.

After Stevens was able to talk him into it, Uperesa returns to the field as EIU's offensive line coach. He's going to remain laid back, which has always been his style.

"It feels great and feels nice to be back out working with the kids," Uperesa said. "I am a teacher. You are not going to see a guy who is going to get all riled up and get all fired up. I am not going to be up in their faces. I am more inclined to have them figure things out. Hopefully that gives them enough tools to work with so they can understand what they need to do and how they need to do it fundamentally.

"I am very big on the fundamental part of the game. There's only so much you can do right and left, you have to understand what's right in front of you."

It's the fifth offensive line coach in the last five seasons for the EIU as Uperesa takes over for Mike Simmonds, who moved on to the University of Northern Iowa to become the Panthers new offensive line coach. Uperesa isn't worried about the turnover, though.

"I told Greg and Kim that I am not going to come in and force feed the things that I do," Uperesa said. "It's still the X's and O's and still how to get from point A to point B. Right now the biggest challenge the kids have is not a change in philosophy, but terminology. It's easier to teach one old guy the terminology than try and teach 11 guys something new again. We want to keep the language all the same.

"I'm very familiar with what they are doing schematic-wise. I am here to do one thing that's very important to me, to put them in position to succeed."

The Panthers return a bulk of their offensive line since Evan Kanz is the only senior who graduated. So the Panthers return starting left tackle Grant Branch, left guard Austin Askin, center Louis Vailopa and right guard Aaron Callaway. Josh Doyle has been taking a majority of the snaps at right tackle.

Uperesa feels with the experience the Panthers have back on the offensive line, it can be a good strength this season.

"You are talking about experience and that goes a long way, especially from the inside out," Uperesa said. "You've got a guy like Louis, who is very astute as to what's going on up front. Branch has the best set of feet I've seen in a long time. I like the progression of Josh Doyle right now."

EIU wraps up spring practice with its annual Spring Game at noon on April 22.


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