POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Jan 27, 2009
The pipeline is officially open.
Kahuku football players are flowing to Manoa.
Safety Aulola Tonga Jr. said he intends to sign with Hawaii on Feb. 4, joining a growing list of talented athletes from the North Shore.
The Star-Bulletin All-State first-teamer had considered other schools, but all the pieces fell into place, including academics and a wave of fellow Red Raiders.
"Coach said I don't have to graduate early, that there's five years to finish, and if I graduate early, (UH) would pay for my master's degree," said Tonga, who has a 3.3 grade-point average.
He noted that former Kahuku quarterback Inoke Funaki is taking that path. Like Funaki, Tonga expects to go on a Mormon mission. Tonga follows a growing line of Red Raiders now suiting up in green and black. He and linebacker Kamalani Alo join transfer Gary Nagy (BYU) and recent recruits Alema Tachibana and Paipai Falemalu, plus walk-on Richard Torres.
"You know what? We might just have a Red Raider defense for UH," Tonga said.
Tonga's decision came down to two factors: staying home near family, and the complicated web of changes on the continent.
"My mom liked Coach Mack when she met him. He said he'd take care of me," Tonga said of Warriors coach Greg McMackin. "It's a chance to play soon and stay close to home, play in front of everybody."
At 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds, Tonga was a stellar defensive back who also made some spectacular catches deep downfield on the offensive end for Kahuku.
Tonga's father, Aulola Sr., died when Jr. was 11. There are three younger sisters at home.
His explosive senior season caught recruiters off guard. UCLA had no offers left and asked him to grayshirt. Washington, with new coach Steve Sarkisian, was interested but didn't offer. Interest from Sarkisian was stronger while he was a defensive coordinator at USC.
BYU entered the picture late, Tonga said, and never offered.
"If I graduate from Hawaii, people will remember me, not like people who go out there (to the mainland) and come back," Tonga said.
He'll be ready if called on to return kicks.
"If they want me to, I'll do it for the team," Tonga said.