‘The sky’s the limit’
KAPAA — Warriors senior offensive lineman Morris Unutoa Jr. is bringing a lot of attention to Kapaa High School.
“We’ve had already 10 Division I schools come and visit. Sometimes they’ll call you the day before, ‘Hey, we’re on the island,’” Kapaa High varsity football head coach Philip Rapozo said during Wednesday’s practice at the school.
“One school called us that morning. ‘Hey, I’m up at the school. Can we come up?’” he continued. “They don’t come often to this island. He’s bringing a lot of attention, not just to Kapaa, but to the KIF. By them coming for him, he’s giving other kids opportunities to get looked at.”
Unutoa stands out at 6 feet, 5 inches tall and 285 pounds. Those physical attributes, coupled with his play on the gridiron, have drawn eyes from college coaches.
So far, he has scholarship offers from 10 Division I colleges — University of Hawaii, Brigham Young University, Utah, Vanderbilt, UNLV, Oregon State, Colorado, Washington State, San Jose State and Central Florida.
“It has been (overwhelming), but at the same time it’s really exciting,” Unutoa said after Wednesday’s practice. “I’m just looking forward to getting better and getting the season started.”
He’s also received interest from Southern Cal, UCLA, Arizona State, Arizona, Washington, Kansas, Ohio, Oregon and Utah State, he said.
Unutoa said he received his first scholarship offer right before last season started, and then more offers came after the season ended.
“My first offer was from UH, and that was last year around this time,” he said. “I had to wait a while, and then I got my second offer, from I believe Washington State. And then I waited a couple of weeks, and then I started getting them all in a row. … One week, I had three in a row.”
Rapozo said in all his time coaching, he’s hasn’t seen a player get this much attention before. When coaches visit, they’re often impressed with Unutoa’s physical attributes as well as his character.
“The first thing they look for, they want to see if he’s as big as he looks on film. And most of those guys are big, so they’ll stand next to him. They’ll look up and say that he’s bigger than they thought,” Rapozo said. “They’re impressed with his personality, his attitude and his grades. He’s a 4.0 guy. And they like his family background.”
Unutoa comes from a football pedigree. His father, Morris Unutoa Sr., was an offensive lineman in the National Football League — serving seven years in the league with the Philadelphia Eagles, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Buffalo Bills.
He also played one year in the Canadian Football League with the Ottawa Renegades and played collegiate football at BYU.
“I’m excited for him. It’s a tribute to his hard work and what he’s been able to do on the field and in the classroom,” Unutoa Sr. said in a phone interview Saturday. “I’m happy for Mo. I’m very proud of him. It’s going to be difficult to make a decision because of the numerous offers he’s getting. … But in the process, it’s been exciting.”
Some advice Unutoa Jr. has gotten from his dad is how to conduct himself on and off the field.
“One thing he always tell me is once you step on the field and clip on your helmet, you turn into a whole different person. Nobody is your friend on the field,” he said. “But once you step off it, you be humble, be an example to others and be nice off the field.”
The National Letter of Intent initial signing date is Feb. 1, 2017, but Unutoa’s decision is still up in the air.
“The No. 1 think I look for in a college is that family feeling overall with the team and the campus,” Unutoa said. “I might commit mid-season, maybe towards the end of the season. Somewhere around there.”
Unutoa Sr. said he’s happy his son got an offer from his alma mater BYU, but he’ll encourage whatever decision he makes, without question.
“It’s up to him. It’s a family decision when it comes down to it. If he goes to BYU, then great. If he goes to another school, we’ll definitely support him 100 percent,” he said.
Warriors offensive line coach Jeremy Victor said what will help Unutoa excel at the next level is that he absorbs information and corrects mistakes quickly.
“He learns well. His technique is solid. You tell him one thing, he’ll fix it right away. That’s always good as a coach,” he said. “He’s so big, but he’s so quick on his feet. His feet are so light, you wouldn’t know that he’s as big as he.”
Victor added: “It’s always nice to see any local boy, any Kauai boy, do well. It’s even better that he’s from Kapaa and I get to coach him. So, that’s great.”
Unutoa Sr. said if his son aims to play in the NFL after college, he has the “potential and the tools” to do so.
“I think as long as he continues to work hard and if that’s what he wants to do, he has the tools and the size to make it,” he said. “That’s just up to him. … The sky’s the limit.”
Unutoa Jr. was promoted to the varsity squad during his sophomore year.
Rapozo said at that time, he knew Unutoa could play varsity. But he didn’t know he’d grow into this level of a prospect.
“It’s funny, and we laugh about it now. I told him, ‘Hey Mo, remember when I told you that you’re going to get all these offers and you’re going to save your parents $200,000 for school? I wasn’t sure myself,’” Rapozo said. “I knew he had potential, but I wasn’t sure it was going to come to this. So, we laugh about it every time.”
If Unutoa isn’t the best prospect to come out of the KIF, Rapozo said, then he’s certainly near the top of the list.
“I’m not sure about Jordan Dizon back at Waimea. He’s a heck of an athlete, and we saw what he did at Colorado,” he said. “I don’t know what kind of looks he was getting at that time, but I know this guy has got a lot of looks right now — from big-time schools. I would think, if not the biggest prospect out of the KIF, he’s at least one of them.”
Kapaa High’s varsity football team was 9-1 overall last season en route to winning a second consecutive Kauai Interscholastic Federation championship and a berth in the First Hawaiian Bank Football State Championships – Division II title game.
For now, Unutoa and the Warriors are focused on the upcoming season. The schedule has yet to be released.
Following Wednesday’s practice, Unutoa made sure he thanked the Man Above.
“I want to thank my Heavenly Father for all the opportunities he’s given me, and for (making me) who I am today,” he said.