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Saturday, March 01, 2008

Pipeline to the Islands

A good article from the Corvallis Gazette Times on the numerous players from the State of Hawai'i playing for the Oregon State Beavers football program.

Oregon State has a lot ot offer football recruits from Hawaii

By Kevin Hampton
Corvallis Gazette-Times

Reggie Torres knew there was going to be pressure when he took over as head football coach at Kahuku (Hawaii) High in early 2006.

Kahuku was a powerhouse on the Islands, winning four state titles after finishing second in 1999.

Torres was stepping in for the man who was responsible for that success. Siuaki Livai, who had built the Red Raiders from the basement up, had decided to leave the position after winning his fourth title in his 10th season.

So Torres took over that April, figuring he’d have a few months to settle in. Then the visitors started coming. They were coaches from Southern California, from Arizona, Oregon State, Oregon, Washington, Utah, Brigham Young.

They wanted to see film and check out some of the players.

“They’re all coming now,” Torres said. “You’re talking April, now. Just to see the juniors.”

Hawaii has become a football recruiting hotbed. It’s not Texas, California or Florida, and probably never will be given the population base, but it’s no secret among college coaches that you can find some pretty good players in the Islands.

Chris Naeole, Itula Mili, Toniu Fonoti, Chris Kemoeatu and Ma’ake Kemoeatu are all former Kahuku players who went on to the NFL.

At Oregon State, there are current players such as Jeremy Perry and Tavita Thompson and former Beavers Esera Tuaolo, Alai Kalaniuvalu, Shawn Ball and Inoke Breckterfield, among others.

The players are there. It’s just a matter of convincing them to come to the mainland.

Some schools succeed. Torres said he had three players commit to mainland schools this year - Anthony Siilata to OSU, Benji Kemoeatu to West Virginia and Shiloah Te’o to BYU - and two to Hawaii.

The Beavers also signed safety Kameron Krebs, who is from Kahuku but played his last two seasons at Mission Viejo, Calif.

In addition to OSU, Washington, California and Arizona signed Hawaiian high school players, with the Wildcats landing the top recruit, defensive tackle Solomon Koehler.

University of Hawaii convinced seven players to stay home.

“For the most part, kids go to Hawaii because they don’t want to go away,” Torres said. “They grow up being Hawaii fans and if the opportunity to go to a mainland school doesn’t come, they take the opportunity to stay home.

“It’s good for them to leave because of the experience and the maturity they gain by leaving home, but it’s also tough to leave because they’re used to being with family. It’s tough going away.”

Nevertheless, Hawaiian players have made their way to the mainland in droves.

Breckterfield, who is back with the Beavers as a graduate assistant coach, said when he was a high school player in Hawaii few players thought of going anywhere on the mainland except Utah and BYU, due to the large amount of Mormons on the Islands.

The pipeline has been open for years, but rarely expanded beyond the West Coast schools.

Oregon State has had ties with Hawaii going back to 1923, when the Beavers made the trip to play the Hawaiian All Stars and then University of Hawaii. The Beavers also played Hawaii in the Pineapple Bowl on New Year’s Day in 1940 and ’49.

As Hawaiians trickled into the Pac-10 and other conferences and became top players, the opportunities blossomed. The mainland programs began to recognize Hawaii as a melting pot for football talent.

And they came.

“Some programs didn’t want to spend the money to go out there and recruit, but when they saw the success of the past Polynesian players, now it’s like the Floridas and the Tennessees and the Michigans. Everybody’s going out there now,” Breckterfield said. “Everybody west of the Mississippi is recruiting Hawaii and you get your few SEC schools that get out there. We’ve had some guys that go out east and play.”

The biggest lure is the level of football played on the mainland.

Football has entrenched itself in the culture of Hawaii. The people are a natural fit for the sport. Physically, Hawaiian men are often large. Most of the players coming out of the Islands are offensive or defensive linemen or linebackers.

“Polynesian kids in general, they have the stereotype of being big and strong and football in Hawaii is not as fast as mainland high school football, I guess, in the California area, but the hits are pretty hard,” OSU lineman Wilder McAndrews, who went to Kamehameha High in Honolulu, said. “A lot of high schools, they center their school spirit around their football team. Football is just really important to high schools in general in Hawaii.

“The emotion felt at a high school game is (high). When I was playing in high school, I felt that I was more connected to the team because it’s so much more a part of your life when you’re growing up. It has a lot of emotional meaning.”

The athletes want to play in a Bowl Championship Series conference against the top teams and talent.

Breckterfield came to Corvallis for a shot at playing in the Pac-10. He followed the footsteps of players like Tuaolo, and his impact at defensive end sparked the interests of others to become Beavers.

“When I was here there were a few Polynesians here on the team, some that played before me and some that were coming in as I was here, but I’ve never seen this kind of impact and the amount of players that we have now and it builds every year,” Breckterfield said. “When I was here the other guys would come in and then other guys would come in. I think from when I was here until now, it’s been a gradual building on itself. I think we’ve peaked out at the highest here at Oregon State.”

OSU linebacker David Pa’aluhi hails from Waianae, a small town on the southwest coast of Oahu. He said going to the mainland to play football is considered to be a big deal, although it was a tough decision to leave.

“It was kind of scary at first because I didn’t know what to expect,” Pa’aluhi said. “I kind of wanted to stay home, but then I got an offer from here. When I came on the visit, I liked it.”

Pa’aluhi said people expect the top players to leave Hawaii and the players look at playing on the mainland as a better opportunity.

“We see the mainland colleges as better,” he said. “Better athletics and academics. Playing in the Pac-10, you’re playing big colleges like SC and big bowl games, too.”

Oregon State has more than football to offer the Hawaiian athletes.

Many of the players feel comfortable with the small-town atmosphere of Corvallis, and there are other Polynesians in the community to get to know.

There’s a club for Hawaiian students at OSU that holds get-togethers and a luau. Those outlets help the transition to living thousands of miles from home.

Many of the Hawaiian students have a hard time being away from their family. Pa’aluhi calls home or e-mails his family as often as possible. He has three very young brothers and three sisters, two in high school and one at University of Hawaii.

“Family is real important,” Pa’aluhi said. “We’ll get together during the week, our whole family. A couple times a week we’ll have dinner at our grandparents’ house. It’s kind of hard not being able to get around your family. It’s hard to get used to not being able to have them with you and support you.”

Breckterfield said the amount of Polynesian students on campus makes OSU an attractive choce.

It also helps when several of the coaches have ties to Hawaii.

Defensive coordinator Mark Banker, the main recruiter for the area, coached at University of Hawaii in 1995. Offensive line coach Mike Cavanaugh was with the Rainbow Warriors from 1999 through 2004.

Defensive line coach Joe Seumalo is from Honolulu and coached high school football and at University of Hawaii. He graduated from UH.

“Coach Banker recruits Hawaii and does a great job of bringing his players up and making them feel comfortable,” Breckterfield said. “Coach Riley and coach Banker and the staff in general know what they’re going to get when they recruit a Polynesian player. Very respectful, easy to coach and they always go 110 percent. It’s a simple formula. That’s what you get anytime you recruit any kind of Polynesian player.

“I think that’s what draws Oregon State to bringing in those players.”

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