BIIF football: Kealakehe books rare mainland trip to take on Utah squad

  • Kealakehe's Jordan Himalaya throws a pass in a game last season. The Waveriders are heading to the mainland next season to take on Utah squad Desert Hills. (Rick Winters/West Hawaii Today)

KAILUA-KONA — The offseason game plan for Kealakehe: broaden horizons, both on the field and off of it.

One of the biggest moves the Waveriders have made in accomplishing the goal is scheduling a non-league game in St. George, Utah for the upcoming season.

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The team departs on Aug. 28 for the mainland to take on Desert Hills in what will be a historic trip not only for the program, but for the BIIF as a whole. While some of the top Oahu squads have traveled across the Pacific Ocean for games and the Big Island has hosted teams from out of state, it is the first time a BIIF squad will travel outside of Hawaii for a game since at least the turn of millennium.

“We are excited,” said Kealakehe head coach Sam Kekuaokalani. “It will be a tough test but will be great experience and exposure for the kids.”

Desert Hills finished last season with a 6-5 record, falling in the quarterfinals of the Class 4A state tournament to eventual champion Orem. Kealakehe, which finished as the BIIF D-I runner-up last season, is hoping the game will be a launching pad to a successful year as they seek to dethrone five-time league champ and defending D-I state champion Hilo.

The game, scheduled for Friday, Aug. 31, is just the main event during the trip. There will be plenty to do off the gridiron for the Waveriders. The team will visit three different colleges during the trek in Division I UNLV, D-III Dixie State and Southern Utah University, where the team will watch a game between the Thunderbirds and North Alabama before returning on Sept. 2 and getting into the bulk of the BIIF season.

“We don’t view this as just a football trip, but an opportunity that will enable our student athletes to be exposed to three college levels,” Kealakehe athletic director Alan Vogt said. “We find that most of our kids have limited exposure to post high school prospects.”

That brings the conversation to what Kekuaokalani and his crew have been doing locally to help players see the bigger picture.

Kekuaokalani has been hard at work arranging a showcase series for players on the island — and some beyond — aspiring to play football at the next level.

The first event was held on May 5 and proved a success, hosting more than 100 participants. Most were from the Big Island, but the Waverider skipper was surprised to see a few athletes from Washington show up for the event as well.

With college coaches watching, players went through drills, ran everything from one-on-ones to 11-on-11, and recorded important measurables. Most importantly, it was all free.

Off the field, the special guest was Manti Teo via Skype. The former Heisman candidate and current New Orleans linebacker gave players and parents some insight on his journey to the NFL and what it took to be successful.

That is one of the keys for Kekuaokalani. It’s one thing for him to tell kids what it takes with work on the field and in the classroom. It’s another to hear it from someone who has done it. In the future, he said he hopes to have guys like Manase Hungalu, who recently signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars, NFL veteran Tani Tupou and standout UH pass-catcher John Ursua — all who have links to Kealakehe as graduates or former attendees — around to be mentors.

“We want to expose the kids to the pros and people who have had success so it seems real,” Kekuaokalani said. “We want them to feel that that kind of success is something achievable, not just something they see on TV.”

Kekuaokalani will accompany a Big Island contingent on the mainland for a series of camps in the coming weeks, including the prestigious All Poly Camp in Utah. He’s planning to have another showcase before the end of the summer but is still working on a firm date.

“We have a lot going on,” Kekuaokalani said. “It’s going to be an exciting year.”

How you can help

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For the preseason trip, Kealakehe plans to send a total of 30-35 players as well as 10 coaches and support staff. The Waveriders have been hard at work raising funds for the venture, but are still seeking some assistance for families that are not able to foot the whole bill.

Those looking to donate can click here to access the team’s GoFundMe or email Vogt directly at Alan_Vogt/KEALAKEH/HIDOE@notes.k12.hi.us. The fundraising goal is $45,000. All donations are tax deductible and a letters of donation are available upon request.