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Friday, November 16, 2007

Running the ship

Kaheaku-Enhada of Kapolei is at the controls for the Midshipmen

STORY SUMMARY »

There was a time early in Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada's career when he had a chance to win a big game.

The Kapolei junior varsity team was 11-0 when it played Kahuku for the OIA title in 2002.

Kapolei had only been open a couple of years, and it was the first game with a championship-like atmosphere that Kaheaku-Enhada had been a part of.

The Hurricanes lost that day.

Two weeks ago, playing for Navy against Notre Dame, Kaheaku-Enhada's name immediately became synonymous with one of the greatest moments in the history of Navy football.

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It hadn't happened since Roger Staubach was Navy's starting quarterback.

Brett Favre hadn't been born, Martin Luther King Jr. had just given his "I have a dream" speech and Buddy Rogers just won the inaugural World Wrestling Federation championship.

Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada

Position: Quarterback

Class: Junior

Height / Weight: 5-11, 194

Hometown: Kapolei, Hawaii

High School: Kapolei

Source: Navysports.com

Forty-four years had passed since the Midshipmen last defeated Notre Dame when Kapolei graduate Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada took the field in South Bend, Ind., two weeks ago.

Four quarters and three overtimes later, Kaheaku-Enhada went from a school's starting quarterback to folk hero after helping Navy snap a 43-game losing streak to the Fighting Irish.

"I was in awe. I couldn't believe it was over," Kaheaku-Enhada said after Notre Dame running back Travis Thomas was stopped short of the goal line on a game-tying 2-point conversion attempt. "I think I was the last guy off the bench. I was thinking, 'Wow, this is crazy.' "

On paper, it was nothing more than Navy's fifth win of the season.

But to the men of the Naval Academy, it was something so much more.

"That was a championship game for us," Kaheaku-Enhada said. "I've always wanted to win a game like that, and to finally be able to do it is something special."

After arriving back in Annapolis after the game, the team was mobbed as it got off the bus. Classes were canceled the next day to continue the celebration. Normally, upperclassmen have to be in bed by 10:30 p.m. and up at 6:30 in the morning.

On Monday, they were allowed freedom until 4 in the afternoon.

"I was happy for the players to finally get that thing off their back," Navy coach Paul Johnson said. "We have had a lot of history breaking here in the last four and five years."

Johnson, who spent seven years as offensive coordinator at the University of Hawaii, has solidified himself as an elite coach in college football.

Six years ago, he was named head coach of a Navy squad that had won just one of it previous 21 games. The Midshipmen are 41-19 since and have won four consecutive Commander-In-Chief's trophies.

Navy hasn't lost to Army since he took over and is 9-1 against the service academies.

The Midshipmen have also qualified for bowls the past five years under Johnson. After last week's 74-62 win over North Texas made Navy bowl eligible, the academy this week accepted a bid to the Poinsettia Bowl in San Diego.

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Johnson's Hawaii connections played a key role in Kaheaku-Enhada's journey to Navy. One of Kaheaku-Enhada's coaches at Kapolei was Michael Carter, who played quarterback for Johnson at Hawaii. Navy quarterbacks coach Ivin Jasper and offensive line coach Ken Niumatalolo also played for Johnson at Hawaii and were aware of Kaheaku-Enhada's multi-dynamic skills.

"They all recruited me and I feel like Navy really wanted me," Kaheaku-Enhada said. "Plus we ran the same offense in high school and everything just kind of seemed to fall into place."

Kaheaku-Enhada had a desire to get out and see the world. He also wanted to play quarterback and cites both of those reasons as why he ended up spurning Hawaii.

"I definitely wanted to play in front of my friends and family," Kaheaku-Enhada said. "I wasn't offered until signing day and Navy had offered me from the get-go. They just really showed me a lot of love."

His experiences at the Naval Academy have transformed a kid who admittedly needed discipline in his life to the humbled young man he is today.

"He leads by example," Johnson said. "He's got some natural leadership ability and is fun to coach and fun to be around."

It hasn't always been easy for Kaheaku-Enhada, who struggled adjusting to the strict regimen at Navy during his freshman year.

In addition to physical requirement standards at Navy, students also have to quickly adjust to set bedtime hours, formations three to four times a day and other minor rules most kids normally don't even think about.

Even the slightest misstep can lead to severe punishment.

"One time, I was supposed to pick up a bunch of uniforms, but with football and everything I didn't get a chance," he said. "They made me march tours, which consists of you holding your rifle and marching in a little courtyard for an hour at a time.

"I had to do seven tours. It's pretty bad."

Luckily he learned his lesson quick and isn't fazed any longer by the standards expected of Navy officers.

"It's not tough, because it's rules," Kaheaku-Enhada said. "If you can't follow rules, you're not going to make it through life. If you take care of business and be smart about things, you'll be perfectly fine.

"On the same hand, if you mess up, just own up to it you know, Don't hide it."

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