Kaulana Waalani-Arroyo doesn’t like to talk about himself. Never has.
In 2010, when other high school football stars were signing their national letters of intent in gyms in front of peers, parents, teachers and cameras, Kaulana quietly signed his intent to play for New Mexico Military Institute in the school parking lot on the hood of his father’s truck an hour before it was due.
After a standout freshman season at NMMI, Waalani-Arroyo is still humble about his accomplishments.
Luckily, others are speaking up for him.
In JCGridiorn.com’s annual players to watch list, the website listed Kaulana as one of the top safeties at the junior college level.
“At 6-foot-1 and 190 pounds, Waalani-Arroyo is solid in the weight room and made 36 tackles in just seven games a season ago, and will be expected to make it tough for receivers over the middle of the field this coming year,” the list states.
Kaulana credits his rise in exposure to all of the hard work he put in once he arrived in Roswell, N.M.
At training camp last year, Kaulana began as the fifth-ranked safety on the team. He was smaller and slower than some of this teammates. But a combination of everyday physical and mental workouts led to a drastic improvement.
“He just started playing a lot faster,” 2010 NMMI head coach Jeff Lynn said. “It took him awhile to figure out what was going on, but he really picked it up. He’s always been a big hitter, it just took him some time to adjust to the tempo.”
Kaulana said he’d give as much effort as he could at practice and in the weight room, but also made a conscious effort to learn. During team meetings, whenever a coach asked a question, he would be one of the first to answer. And if he didn’t know something, Kaulana didn’t hesitate to ask questions.
“He’s got a great work ethic and has the intangibles,” Lynn said. “His mom and dad are doing a great job with him.”
Friday afternoon, just like any other afternoon this summer, Kaulana was at his house in Lihu‘e working out with his dad, Teddy Arroyo. Whenever Kaulana works out away from school, Teddy is right there with him. It’s the same as it was back in high school and even before that in the Pop Warner football days.
“He’s the one that made me where I am today,” Kaulana said as sweat soaked through his t-shirt. “I’ve got to live up to my family name.”
Kaulana isn’t the first in his family to make a name for himself between the goalposts on Kaua‘i. Ricky Waalani, Kaulana’s grandfather, was an offensive lineman for Waimea and was the first player from Kaua‘i named to the All-State team.
Years later, Teddy was an All-State linebacker for Waimea.
Kaulana has football talent running through his veins, but he’s driven by living up to the names in his family tree.
“Football runs in this family, but ultimately it’s on him,” Teddy said. “He’s got a dream. He can’t try to be like us. He’s got his own path to follow.”
Fall camp for NMMI starts in the next few weeks. Kaulana will head back to Roswell within the next several days. He enters this season in a drastically different place than just a year ago. Last year Kaulana was unpolished. He was an underdog and came out of nowhere to anchor the Bronco defense.
This year he enters as the starting strong safety. People know who he is. Division I colleges are lining up, waiting for him to finish his final year of junior college. But like the year before, Kaulana knows there’s going to be eager freshman ready to take his starting position if he starts to slip, and he’s not going to let that happen.
“I came in as the new guy and took someone’s spot,” Kaulana said. “Last year talent got me through a lot of the season. This year I got to be stronger.”
The ultimate goal for Kaulana is to have a Division I program offer him a scholarship. True to form, Kaulana said he’s heard some interest but said he wouldn’t feel right talking about it. After all, he’s got a season to focus on.
Others are willing to talk about his potential, though.
“I think he’s a D-I kid,” Lynn said. “He’s got good size and he’s very very physical. If he can improve a bit on his coverage skills he’ll go D-I.”
Kaulana knows that if he wants to make the step up to a D-I, he’s going to have to continue to improve. At the higher levels of play, the guys are even bigger, faster and stronger. But judging by how far he’s come in the last year, it may just be a matter of time before Kaulana achieves his dream.
Just don’t expect to hear him bragging about it later.
• Tyson Alger, sports writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 237) or by emailing talger@ thegardenisland.com. Follow him on twitter.com/tysonalger.