Viking standout to visit other schools before signing date
By Bill O'rear Hilo High School's Semisi Tokolahi has given a verbal commitment to play football at the University of Washington next year.
Tribune-Herald Sports Editor
The 6-foot-3, 290-pound senior was recruited by a handful of NCAA Division I schools and chose Washington over Colorado, Oregon State and Washington State. Despite his verbal commitment, the Viking standout will visit each of those colleges before signing a national letter of intent on the official signing day, Feb. 4.
"I feel really comfortable with the Washington coaches," said Tokolahi, who was born in Tonga and moved to the Big Island in 1995. "I like that they're starting a new program and they said I could play pretty quickly.
"They also know I've never been to the mainland before and that I will visit the other schools in January before the official signing date. I really like Washington, but it's important to see the other schools, too."
If the 17-year-old Tokolahi sticks to his verbal commitment, he will play for new Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian, a highly regarded University of Southern California assistant under head coach Pete Carroll. Sarkisian, a former second-team All-American quarterback at Brigham Young University in the mid-1990s, is USC's offensive coordinator. The Trojans (11-1) will play Penn State (11-1) on Jan. 1 in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.
Sarkisian takes over the Huskies program from Ty Willingham, who stepped down at the end of this past season after an 0-12 record and a four-year mark of 11-37 while in Seattle.
Tokolahi played defensive line for Viking coach Kalani Siliga and was named the Big Island Interscholastic Federation Division I Defensive Player of the Year as well as earned second-team all-state honors. He averaged 11 tackles per game and finished an outstanding season with 11-plus sacks. He also scored two touchdowns; one on a 13-yard run as a fullback against rival Waiakea, and the other on a fumble recovery in the endzone against Keaau.
"Semisi is a big, fast, strong athlete," Siliga said. "He used his strong frame and quickness to rush the quarterback, and whether he played inside or out, he was still able to defend against the run."
The first-year Hilo varsity head coach believes Tokolahi, who runs a 4.9 40-yard dash and can power clean 320 pounds, can be successful at the collegiate level.
"He just needs to put his mind to it and work as hard as he's done the past couple of the years," Siliga said. "If he can do that, he'll be successful."
Frank Baker, Hilo's defensive coordinator and an outside linebacker at Northern Arizona in the mid-1970s, is high on Tokolahi -- as a promising player and a "good character kid."
"He's the real deal," Baker said. "I had him ranked as the top defensive tackle in the state. He's got really good footwork. He's the type of kid coaches love. He's not going to tell you, he's going to show you what he can do."
Baker has coached prep football on the Big Island for 18 years and believes Tokolahi is one of the best he's ever worked with.
"Players like Semisi only come around once every six or seven years," the Viking defensive coordinator said. "He's got the potential to be a phenomenal college player. He's a solid student, he had a 3.2 grade point average this year and he's got 100 percent family support behind him.
"He'll qualify for next year and he has a great chance to play."
The odds favor Tokolahi joining a Washington squad that includes defensive end Daniel Te'o-Nesheim, a former Hawaii Preparatory Academy standout who was named the Huskies' most outstanding defensive lineman this past season as a junior. Another Big Island player, 6-7, 240-pound redshirt sophomore Kalani Aldrich out of Kamehameha-Hawaii, is also a member of the Pac-10 team.
Tokolahi said the Huskies coaches want to use him as a defensive end. They also hope to see his weight increase to about 320 pounds while preparing to battle the other big bodies in NCAA D-I football.
"I had my ups and downs in high school," Tokolahi said. "But in the end, it was about getting ready to play at the next level, in college. You have to take life one step at a time, and college is my next step.
"I'm going to focus on college and like everybody else, my dream is to some day play in the NFL."
Tokolahi points to his family's support in helping him prepare for college.
"Thanks to my family, especially my dad, who kept pushing me," the young athlete said. "My dad told me to push everything to the limit."
Semisi is the only child of Kina and Sita Tokolahi of Hilo. He plans on majoring in criminal justice in college.
Last summer, he participated in the "Just Win" football camp on Maui with almost 400 high school players from Hawaii and the mainland. He was named to the all-star team at the three-day exposure camp that attracted college coaches from around the country.
"It was a good experience for me and showed a lot of the coaches that I have the ability to play at the college level," Tokolahi said. "I'm looking forward to taking that next step up."
Tokolahi is the second Hilo High player this year to verbally commit to an NCAA D-I football program. Earlier, senior Jordan Loeffler, a 6-5, 260-pound offensive lineman agreed to accept a scholarship to play at the University of Hawaii next year. Loeffler plans to officially sign with the Warriors in February.
E-mail Tribune-Herald sports editor Bill O'Rear at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Football Player bio
Who: Semisi Tokolahi
Height: 6 feet, 3 inches
Weight: 290 pounds
Class: Senior at Hilo High
Honors: BIIF D-I Defensive Player of Year, 2nd-team All-State defensive lineman
His Final Four: Washington, Colorado, Oregon St., Washington St.