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Thursday, February 04, 2010

Hawaii prep talent spread far, wide

There was a time not so long ago when the sleepers in local high school football were often left sleeping.

The rare blue chippers were reeled in, refined and polished up by major-conference schools, while many other players were left with few, if any, options.

Times have changed. Yesterday's letter-of-intent bonanza netted results for the University of Hawaii as well as programs across the mainland.

For every elite safety/rover like Kapolei's Shaydon Akuna (6-foot-2, 215 pounds), who turned down Florida State and Arizona to attend Oregon State, there's a dynamic athlete like Castle's Shaydon Kehano.

Instead of being left without a scholarship, Kehano, a Star-Bulletin all-state first-team receiver, was snatched up by Weber State.

For every elite linebacker like Punahou's Jeremy Ioane, who turned down Notre Dame and Washington in favor of Boise State, there's a hidden gem like Kamehameha's Wave Ryder.

The 6-foot-3, 185-pound senior switched from offense to defense last summer and quickly became a force at safety. Though Ryder was raw at his new position, his upside was enough for the U.S. Naval Academy to offer a scholarship, which he accepted.

For every pure pass rusher like Farrington's V.J. Fehoko, who turned down Hawaii to play for Utah, there's Saint Louis' Jeremy Higgins, a prolific passer who is going to the only school he received an offer from: Utah State.

Higgins, Kehano and Ryder fit the classic walk-on mold that made UH deeper and better in years past. Today, players on the bubble between Division I and FCS (formerly known as Division I-AA) have better odds of finding free tuition and board while extending their football careers.

There are just more quality players in the islands than scholarships available for the state's lone college football program.

"I just want to go compete," Higgins said.

Yesterday's torrent of signees was especially heavy at the Sheraton Waikiki, where the Pacific Islands Athletic Alliance held its annual ceremony. Some 75 student-athletes signed at 7 a.m., officially the earliest time letters could be signed and faxed to coaches.

Akuna, Fehoko and Ioane were among the few who saved their final decision for LOI day. At last count, UH scooped up 13 Hawaii/Polynesia recruits, including some nice surprises in the late going of recruiting season. Those include Saint Louis defenders Marcus Umu (safety/nickel back) and Moses Samia (defensive end).

Perhaps the most interesting conglomerate was the dozen seniors from Kapolei who will play college football this fall. Three will be in D-I and the rest will go to smaller schools or junior colleges.

Another five from Leilehua will join the collegiate ranks, the most during coach Nolan Tokuda's helm. Kahuku has eight athletes who signed yesterday, including Star-Bulletin defensive player of the year Hauoli Jamora (Washington) and Kona Schwenke (Notre Dame).

While Kahuku's tradition and talent help to attract recruiters, Kapolei has a smooth pipeline through the extra effort of coach Darren Hernandez.

"To me, there's a big world out there beyond high school football," said Hernandez, who has a simple, yet effective video-editing system on his laptop. "If it gets our players more motivated, that's great."

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