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Thursday, July 21, 2011

Lucas at Large: Kamoku at home in Madison

James Kamoku would love to have more people show up for Madison Mustangs home games, if for no other reason to recognize that the players are driven by their love of the game, not $$$$$.

"I can go out there and play football and be a 9-year-old again," Kamoku said. "I can go out there and play football for the game that it is - without the money aspect.

"I would love fans to come out, not to just see me, but to see this team - to see why we play and how we play. I'm around a bunch of guys who are like a second family to me."

Kamoku is still part of the UW family, too.

"Once a Badger, always a Badger," he stressed.

You may remember that Kamoku left his family in Hawaii - Kailua-Kona on the Big Island - to sign a tender to play football for the Badgers as a member of the 2003 recruiting class.

Kamoku, who played at Kealakehe High School, was part of the Hawaiian Invasion. Two years earlier that included Donovan Raiola, Lyle Maiava and R.J. Morse. All were from the island of Oahu.

Former UW assistant Jeff Horton was Barry Alvarez' recruiter in Hawaii. When Horton was the head coach at UNLV, one of his assistants was Sam Papalii, who was Kamoku's prep coach.
Kamoku was raised in the shadow of active volcanoes Mauna Loa and Kilauea. While in high school, he can recall evacuation drills as part of the preparedness training for a tsunami or earthquake.
You can imagine the culture shock when he got to Madison. On his mid-winter recruiting trip, he got off the plane wearing a tank top and surf shorts. He learned quickly.

During his UW playing career, Kamoku contributed mainly on special teams. A hybrid safety-linebacker, he took great pride in his role - doing whatever he was asked to do to help the Badgers.

Kamoku, a history major, also took pride in his ability to play chess. Only one teammate, he claimed, ever beat him. That was Matt Gajda, a backup lineman, who became an aerospace engineer.

There's another footnote to his career: Kamoku was on the kickoff cover unit that Bret Bielema instructed to purposely go offsides before the ball was kicked in a 2006 game against Penn State.

Bielema, at the time, was exposing a flaw in a short-lived NCAA rule that started the clock on the kick, instead of when the ball was touched by the return team.
Before sending his kick cover players on the field, Bielema told them, "I don't care how offsides you are, I don't care if you're on the goal line when they catch the ball ... "

How did Kamoku respond? Like you would expect a consummate team player to respond.

"I was like, 'Yes, sir. If that's what you want, that's what I'm going to do,'" he related.

During the 2007 training camp, Kamoku had to deal with some personal adversity after suffering a torn Achilles' tendon that would all but wipe out his senior year. He returned for bowl practices.
"It definitely tested me," he said of the injury. "My wife will tell you that it was one of the hardest things that we both have gone through"

But he made the best out of the situation. "I had a Plan B," he said after gaining a better understanding of "why academics are stressed" and "why we are known as student-athletes."

Kamoku is now an eighth grade special education teacher at O'Keeffe Middle School. "I love it," he said. "It's something that I've always wanted to do and that's give back to kids in any way I could."

For the last two years, he has helped coach football, track and field and wrestling at Madison East High School. Kamoku will be coaching this school year in Sun Prairie.

His philosophy can be summarized thusly, "Be patient. Soak up the coaching. Ask questions if you don't understand. Play the game, have fun, don't get caught up in the structure of winning."

Since he's receiving no financial compensation from the Mustangs, and since he's 26 and there's always the health risk in a contact sport, why is James Kamoku still playing football?

"For anyone who has played the sport," he said, "or anyone who has played any other sport, and has had a passion for their sport, they know it's very hard to give up that sport.

"You fall in love with the game, so you will do anything that you can to still be a part of the game - whether as a player or a coach. Winning is always fun, too."

The Madison Mustangs have won 42 straight games.

"We take the same approach as the Badgers and coach Bielema," he said. "We're 1-0 and every week we have one opponent and that's the only thing that we focus on."

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