Aki Vakalahi was an "unknown star" growing up on Maui, but his recruitment has taken a turn for the better since joining Dale Wolfley's club last August.Phoenix Community College strong-side linebacker
A native Hawaiian, Aki and cousin Tevita Finau, a defensive end, slugged it out through the late summer in the desert and gray-shirted their true freshmen season under the eye of Wolfley, a former Mountaineer team captain.
Everything changed this spring. First West Virginia head football Rich Rodriguez came to visit Wolfley in the early part of the just-ending open evaluation period. Then, last Monday, defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel came by.
Finau, a 6-foot-5, 275 pounder with 4.8 speed, received a WVU offer. Then, after watching "Aki tape" from spring football, the WVU staff tendered a written pledge to Vakalahi.
"Coach Casteel came in. I can't talk to him because of the NCAA rules, but my coach chatted with him for a while and told me about him. Coach Wolfley is all about West Virginia. He's told us a lot of stories," said the 6-4, 250 pounder with 4.7 speed.
Vakalahi enjoyed Coach Wolfley's discussion so much that he pushed the Mountaineers to the top of his recruiting list ahead of Nebraska and Kansas State, which have also offered.
"I got to see a couple of tapes along with 'T.' I'm excited. I really loved the tape of the fans at the stadium the most. Coach Rich came to see my coach earlier, and Coach Wolfley told me about how good of a guy he is."
Vakalahi--and cousin Tevita, for that matter--made no commitments to the Mountaineers. Aki was set to go home to his Lahaina, Maui residence for a couple of weeks. Coach Wolfley will open practice back at Phoenix on June 4. Cousin Finau's father was visiting him from Hawaii as of earlier this week.
"The plan now is to go to summer school and then graduate by May. That's the plan. We want to take some visits for sure, but we will have to work them around our school work," Vakahali said.
Since both Finau and Vakalahi, who are related through their fathers' sides, could graduate in May of 2008, they could sign by February and then have four years to play three seasons at the universities of their choices.
As a two-sport stand-out on Maui--rugby and football--Vakalahi got little press.
"Nobody knew about me, I was kind of a nobody. I was an unknown star," said the Hawaiian with a laugh. "That is changing over here. People are more serious about my football over here. This is all new to me, but it's great. My family and I are really excited about it all," he said.
Apparently, so are the Mountaineers who have had the head coach and D-coordinator two-team the pair this spring.