Talk Story: Sean Shigematsu

KAPAA — In 2010, Sean Shigematsu graduated from Kapaa High School. Five years later, he would come back.

Shigematsu, who previously played football at the University of Hawaii as an offensive lineman, graduated from UH in December 2014. With his bachelor’s degree in business management, he came back home to Kauai.

Soon after his return, he reunited with his old high school. Shigematsu is now an assistant coach with the school’s varsity football team and varsity boys volleyball team.

He completed his first season with the Warriors volleyball team this past spring. He is prepping for his first season with the Kapaa football staff.

Shigematsu sat down with The Garden Island after football practice on Tuesday at Kapaa High School. There, he talked about his time on and off the gridiron at UH and taking on a coaching role at his old high school.

So, what’ve you been up to since graduating from UH?

Oh man, just working. I started off in construction in the field, working for Creative Partition Systems. Worked for them for about six months, and then I heard they had an opening in the office. So, I turned in my resume. That’s where it started off. Now, I’m in the office as a project engineer.

Great business. Family-oriented.

Outside of football, what are some of the memories you have from UH?

Man, just always linking up with the boys. Our O-line was really tight. Our whole team was really tight.

We’d be there all summer grinding. So after every workout, we’d go kick it at the beach. On the weekend, come Aloha Friday, we’d have a major barbecue at Sandy Beach and just chill out.

As far as your college football career, what would you say are some of the highlights?

Well, I started all four years. But I didn’t start every game. Just injuries, man.

But, memories man, I think just being able to go travel and see all these different places and different cultures, and meet different people. Just be exposed (to more), not just this little rock. There’s more out there.

Got to see Washington, D.C. We went to Baltimore and checked out the Under Armour plant. We went all over. We saw Utah, a lot of (California), Las Vegas was fun, Colorado. Yeah man, we did a lot of traveling. It was cool. I enjoyed that part.

And the team aspect. You’re with those 105 guys all the time. That’s all you know — just those guys. It’s pretty much like a brotherhood, with a bunch of dads. And then your moms are like the trainers and all the ladies that help the thing go. But pretty much, you see these guys for four years of your life. Some come and go. But for the majority of it, those guys become like your brothers pretty much.

I still talk to my friends, pretty much, to this day. Just text them and see how they’re doing — see what they’re up to and how they’re doing in life. A couple of my boys are still playing ball. A handful of them are still playing, which is cool.

You brought up the injuries. I can imagine dealing with that was frustrating.

Definitely. I think for me, at the beginning of my career, I redshirted. Then I came out and got the start as a redshirt freshman. For my first game against Colorado, I did pretty well. Then I went to the next game with Washington. I was actually having a pretty good game. Then toward the end, it was a miscommunication and that’s when I got hit. I blew out my knee. It’s one of those things where either you take it and build, or it’s going to get the best of you.

But my spirits went down after that, knowing that the next game my family was going to go up to Vegas and come watch me. We had it all set. We all planned it. And then I couldn’t make it because I had to go home the next night and get surgery.

It was a bummer. But I always think of it as God will always test you. It’s either He gives you the tests because you’re strong enough to push through it, or He’s going to test you to see if you can do it or not. You know, everything happens for a reason. You just got to be able to fight through the adversity and get back to where you want to be, or else you’ll just get held down.

Well despite all that, when you take the good and the bad, what would you say about your time at UH that made it all worth while?

I think the relationships that I made with both the coaches and the players I played with. I tell my coaches, especially my O-line coaches, they’re the guys that made me who I am today — especially coach Dean Petro (former assistant coach at Kapaa HS). He was one of the biggest part of my life. I was skinny and I was small in high school, but I had height. I thought maybe I could play, but at a smaller level. He’s the one that opened my eyes like, “Hey Shige, you got the potential to play at the Division I level. You just got to work at it.”

He was like a second father figure. He’s the guy that got on you, but at the same time you know he loved you. He was hard on you, but he pushed you to be better and not just mediocre. So, I respect him a lot.

Coach Chris Naeole came in. He’s a coach who really made me tough. His mentality was like, “Don’t let anybody give you crap. Hit them in the mouth.” That was his mentality, like, “You got to be the baddest, toughest out there. If not, he’s going to kick your ass all day.” And with his experience in the NFL, he opens your eyes. You can’t disagree with the guy because he played at the highest level, and he’s done it for so many years. A lot of the guys fed off that. It was easy to relate to him.

We’ve talked about the good and the bad. During your senior year, the school decided to cut ties with Norm Chow. Coach Naeole served as the interim coach. What was it like going through that change?

It was different. It affected us a little bit, that our leader was gone. But at the same time they always preached, “No matter what, when someone goes down, the train keeps going. You got to step up, move forward and keep on progressing. The game ain’t going to stop.”

I think Naeole was the right pick to do that because he’s tough and his mentality is to win. That’s it. He has a winning mentality and he’s a tough guy. That was his thing — he wanted us to be tough and give 100 percent. Do all the right things so at the game, it comes easy.

I’m glad they kept him. He’s an asset to the team, for sure.

So then, how do you think Coach Nick Rolovich will do this upcoming season?

I love Coach Rolo. When I was there being recruited, he came over. It was him, coach Gordy Shaw and coach (Greg McMackin). They all came to my house for a recruiting trip. It was like family. He was a younger dude at the time, so he related to us really well being that he went to UH. He knows the whole system.

Coming into this season, I think he’ll do well. He’s got that Hawaii mentality. He knows Hawaii football and the fans in Hawaii. It’s all about winning over here.

I know for the past four years, we’ve had tough seasons. I know they want to turn it around. I know they want to do good for Hawaii, and bring the spirit back to Hawaii. I really do hope they do well.

Coming back to your old high school, how did coaching for you get started?

I kind of always had that feeling that I was going to come back and give back. Growing up, all I knew was sports. Seeing my dad give back and all these coaches that I now coach with — you see that, it’s good to give back to the kids. Being that I played at the highest level, I want them to know that it’s possible. It’s all up to them.

So I just come back, and I share my knowledge on what I’ve experienced and what it takes to get to that level. I tell them, “Man, while you’re sleeping, someone else is out there grinding. That’s how the world works. Whoever is the hungriest, that’s who’s going to eat.”

It started off with spring football. I was in and out of there. Then Coach Kapule Kaona (Kapaa varsity boys volleyball head coach) asked me and one of my best friends, Kekoa Colipano, to come out and help for volleyball. He handles the setters, and I went over to the middle blockers. It kind of started from there.

I would go do spring football. Then when it was about 5 o’clock, I run up here (to the gym), do volleyball, and head home.

You went to school here. Used to play here. What’s it like coming back to your old school in this new role?

It’s cool. It’s different now. You kind of got to take a step back and put yourself in their shoes sometimes. As a coach, you want to see perfection. But then you got to understand that maybe these kids are getting tired — fatigue is setting in.

It’s different. It’s cool though. It’s cool to see when you’re coaching up and they put it into the game and it works, you’re like, “Damn. OK, it’s paying off. The hard work is paying off.” I’m not expecting money, but I’m expecting these kids to grow. I want to see growth, see them get mature and get ready for the real world.

I tell them that sports can relate a lot to the real world — you got to show up to practice like you got to show up to work. If you don’t, you’re not going to play like you’re not going to get paid and you’re not going to eat. … If you don’t take some responsibility and get on it now, when the real world comes, that thing is going to hit you square in the mouth.

On the other hand, what are some of the struggles you’re dealing with as a new coach?

I think frustration sets in sometimes. But I think I’m straightforward with the kids. If you’re not doing the right things, then I’m just going to tell you, you know? I tell them that you don’t want to be lied to. That’s just sugar-coating something. I tell them that if I lie to you now, that’s what you’re going to know in the future. You think you’re doing the right things, but you actually ain’t.

So, I try to be as straightforward with them as possible and tell them why. I’m not just going to yell at you for no reason, but I’m going to explain it to you and get my point across. Just be real — that’s what I’ve learned.

Some kids understand that. Some kids, you got to bark at them a little bit. But for the most part, I enjoy it.

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