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College football: Wa’a goes to work as Hawaii’s iron man

Updated: 
October 26, 2017 - 12:05am

It was in the fall of 2009 — six months before the first iPad was sold — when Hawaii offensive lineman John Wa’a missed a football practice.

“I broke my ankle,” said Wa’a, who was a Kahuku High freshman at the time.

Since then, Wa’a has been dependable as an East Honolulu sunrise. Wa’a, a fifth-year senior, has not missed a practice or offseason workout.

He has played in 45 of a potential 47 college football games. He has started 21 consecutive games, most among the Rainbow Warriors’ offensive players. Middle linebacker Jahlani Tavai also has started 21 in a row. Long-snapper Noah Borden has played in 32 consecutive games.

“Typical local boy,” head coach Nick Rolovich said of Wa’a. “He comes here, he knows he has a job to do, he puts in a good effort.”

It was Harry Wa’a who instilled his son’s workmanlike attitude.

“My dad always taught me growing up there’s a difference between being hurt and being injured,” John Wa’a said. “You can play through pain. I guess I was never really injured.”

In a game last season, Wa’a did not miss a snap despite a stomach ailment. “I tried not to think about it,” Wa’a said, “and I took Pepto (Bismol).”

During the season, the day after a game is his time to chill.

“I try to come (to the UH training room) and get in the ice bath,” Wa’a said. “You’re always sore, no matter what, but it helps. It makes it hurt less.”

For inspiration, Wa’a turns to graduate assistant John Estes, a former Warrior who has coached the offensive line since Chris Naeole resigned three weeks ago. Estes, similar to Wa’a, played guard and center. Estes holds the NCAA record for consecutive games started (54) and played (54).

“I was always out here to prove myself,” Estes said of his UH career. “Not just to be the best, but I wanted to win my individual battles every time. That was the main thing. That’s what I cared about. I wanted to show everyone I could win and help the team win.”

Estes said Wa’a is equally diligent. “It speaks to his training, and trying to get better, and taking one day at a time, and not looking too far ahead,” Estes said. “He’s done a good job for us.”

Wa’a has been effective in blocking plus-sized defensive tackles and leading the way on pulls. In Wa’a’s 24 career starts, the Warriors are averaging 5.52 yards per non-sack carry and have scored 45 rushing touchdowns. In those games, the Warriors have allowed one sack every 21.4 pass plays.

“John is probably one of my favorite people on the team,” said quarterback Dru Brown, who transferred from College of San Mateo in June 2016. “Not only because he’s tough and he’s always there for me on the field, but he was one of my first local friends. I came out here and it’s really different, obviously, and he invited me over for Thanksgiving, and I met his family. We’re really close and hang out a decent amount.”

Brown, like many, found Wa’a to be dependable.

“If anyone needed anything, he would be there,” Brown said. “I think that’s really important in the world we live in. I think there are a lot of people who aren’t really accountable, their word doesn’t mean much. When John says he’ll be there or he’ll do something, he’ll do it. He’ll stay true to his word.”

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