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Thursday, February 08, 2007

Hawaii HS Football Signees

Posted on: Thursday, February 8, 2007

43 prep football stars sign letters of intent

Signing day photo gallery

Video: Letter of Intent Signing Day in Kapolei

By Beverly Creamer
Advertiser Education Writer


In the pre-dawn darkness outside Kapolei Hale, Joseph Dickson stood excitedly with his son, Joseph "Jojo" Dickson Jr., a linebacker for Maui's Baldwin High School football team, waiting for a big moment in their lives.

Just before 7 a.m. sharp they and 42 other families would share an experience that one father called "way better than Christmas."

On national signing day in Hawai'i and across the nation yesterday, top high school players signed binding national letters of intent to play football for colleges in every conference from the Pac 10 to the Big Ten.

"This is what we worked for," said Dickson Sr., who never got the chance to go to college because he was supporting a young family. Now his son is on the threshold of opportunities he never dreamed of.

"It's an exciting day for us."

In the hubbub of tearful tutus, proud younger brothers and cell-phone photography, 43 strapping young men, most towering over their parents, scrawled signatures on their letters to assure themselves college scholarships.

Their signatures were worth anywhere from about $85,000 at the low end for a Mainland college to $300,000 at the high end — the valuation of four years of education at the U.S. Naval Academy. Two young men were headed in that direction — Aaron Santiago from Kapolei High and Josh Andrews from Mililani High.

Hawai'i is becoming a fertile ground for Mainland recruiters looking for promising young athletes, and yesterday scores across the state — perhaps hundreds — signed letters on the first day of the NCAA signing period at school-sponsored and other ceremonies such as the one in Kapolei.

"It's the competitiveness of the kids — and the Polynesians always wanting to be their best," said Jojo Dickson, who signed with the University of Idaho.

'I WANT TO BE A BUFFALO'

Many of the players had received numerous offers, and some had a tough time making final choices. While the letters of intent have been arriving over the past few weeks, yesterday was the first day a recruit could sign a national letter of intent, although many already had nonbinding verbal agreements with schools.

Among those struggling to make a decision was Kealakai Maiava of Baldwin High.

Doris Sullivan, director of the Pacific Islands Athletic Alliance, is also a sort of informal matchmaker who helps pair players and colleges, and she had advice at the ready.

"His dad played at Colorado and his brother is at USC," said Sullivan, "and his offer came in late and he's torn between Colorado and New Mexico State. I said to him, 'What do you want to do?' and he said, 'I want to be a Buffalo' (the University of Colorado)."

Be a Buffalo, advised Sullivan. "If you get a chance to play in the Big 12, choose the Big 12," she said.

Maiava did.

A HUGE WEIGHT LIFTED

For Aaron Dutton of Mililani High, it wasn't until the night before that his letter arrived in the mail, nonchalantly set aside by a younger brother who didn't realize its importance.

Dutton will attend Mississippi Valley State — the alma mater of former NFL star Jerry Rice.

"It's like a dream come true," said Aaron's dad, Bill Dutton. "You rear your children and try to make them responsible citizens and this is the payoff."

The elder Dutton said this moment is the culmination of 17 years of family effort, everything from checking their son's homework every night when he was younger to spending more than a week cutting and splicing years of video the family had taken to create a tape that would interest college coaches.

The Duttons made 30 copies and sent them out, an effort that would have cost $2,000 if they hadn't done all the work themselves.

"My son is one of 2,000 kids who play football," Dutton said. "If you want exposure, as a parent you have to do the selling to the coaches and hopefully they'll see something they can develop."

For families, the moment their child signs on the dotted line, a huge weight is lifted. It means tuition and books and housing and fees are taken care of, and parents are assured their child will emerge not just with a shot at the pros maybe, but a college education.

PAYING FOR COLLEGE

None of that was lost on Tommy Friel as he watched his son Kaneakua grow into a tall and muscular athlete who played tight end for Kamehameha Schools and signed with Brigham Young University.

For Kaneakua, football was the chance to run, to stay active, to do something he loves. For dad, it was a chance to pay his son's way through college.

"We knew he had the genetics," said his father, a former athlete who married a 6-foot former high school volleyball and basketball star.

For the Eselus, none of that was assured. Tammy and Raymond met when they danced with entertainer Al Harrington's Polynesian revue in the 1980s, she as a hula dancer and he as a fire-wielding knife-dancer.

'I'M READY TO GO'

Football for the kids sounded like a long shot, and through elementary and middle school years, their son, Savai'i, didn't play because he could never get his weight down to make the cut, said his mom.

Only in high school at Moanalua was he finally able to join the team. By then he was a decent bass player, and not bad on the 'ukulele, either. His high school career saw him play Carnegie Hall with the school orchestra in 2005, and when he heads to the University of California-Berkeley in the fall, he'll be packing his instruments along with his jerseys.

The music actually helped the sports, he said.

"They both stress the main values of commitment, trust and leadership," Savai'i Eselus said. "That plays both on the field and off.

"I feel ecstatic now that it's over," he continued, ringed with lei, talking on his cell phone and wearing a cap emblazoned with "Cal" pushed back on his forehead.

"I finally hit that point where I'm taking the next step in my life, and I'm ready to go."

Reach Beverly Creamer at bcreamer@honoluluadvertiser.com.

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