KAPAA — Some of the state’s best student athletes are on-island to showcase their talents hoping to continue on to college.
“It’s a really great experience getting to compete against all the other seniors from Hawaii,” said Waimea High defensive back Justin Fune. “There’s some really good talent here. You get to see where you stand competing against these boys.”
The Life Champion Senior Bowl, hosted by Hawaii Football Club, is set for 12 p.m. Saturday at Vidinha Stadium. The first practice was held Thursday morning at the Mayor Bryan J. Baptiste Sports Complex in Kapaa.
“It’s a good experience,” said Kapaa High offensive lineman Mikela Matayoshi. “On Kauai, you don’t see as much height and size as you do on Oahu. It’s a good, humbling experience to see all these guys.”
132 high school football seniors, including 18 from Kauai, Kapaa and Waimea high schools, will take part in the showcase Saturday.
“The kids are incredible. Our coaches love not just the talent, but the character of these kids. Those are the first thing we heard right off the bat,” said HFC executive director Robert “Keala” Pule Sr. “Right now, they’re excited to see how they move on the field. They’ve seen the game film, but now they want to see them in person.”
The objective for the bowl game is to get Hawaii’s high school seniors recruited by colleges for scholarships.
“Yesterday, it was great. On one pickup, I had a coach and a player I had picked up. And that coach already had flagged this player. That, ‘Hey, we want you’ started at that moment,” Pule said. “It’s great to hear that these coaches want our kids.”
Matayoshi added: “A scholarship is always the goal. If I could get one out of this, it would be amazing. If not, then this is always a good experience for me.”
Several coaches from colleges were present at Thursday’s practice. A total of 21 institutions from Division II, Division III, NAIA and JUCO will be represented at the game Saturday.
“It’s great to get out here and see these guys starting out here today,” said Colorado Mesa University football head coach Russ Martin. “There’s a lot of enthusiasm, a lot of energy. I think it’s going to be a great game for them.”
Fune added about interacting with the coaches: “I’ve talked to a few coaches earlier in the beginning of practice. They come around during the drills and talk to us. … It’s a bit nerve-racking, but you just talk to the coaches. They get to know you, and you get to know them. You get a feel for their school and their program.”
Also present Thursday was Western Oregon University quarterbacks coach and Kauai High School alumnus Trey Shimabukuro.
“Coming from Kauai, it’s not like you’re playing in the (Interscholastic League of Honolulu),” Shimabukuro said. “It’s been fun. It’s a deal where for these Kauai kids, there’s always a college for them. Whatever the division, whatever the level, there’s always a chance to further their education and play football.”
The Red Raiders alum added he’s enjoyed a homecoming of sorts while evaluating potential players for his university.
“It’s awesome. This stuff wasn’t around when I was in high school,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity for the coaches and for the players. For these kids, this is what it’s all about — an opportunity to further their education, and hopefully some of these guys get a chance at a discounted education. That’s huge. It’s awesome for the local kids, and it’s always nice when it’s at home for me.”
Pule said the players in the bowl game had to not only have ability on the gridiron, but also show their worth in the classrooms and in their communities.
The criteria required for the players for the Life Champion Senior Bowl are:
w Minimum 2.5 cumulative grade-point average
w Must have taken or is scheduled to take the SAT or ACT
w Head coach’s referral
w Administrator referral (principal, vice principal, athletic director and/or counselor)
w Must perform a minimum of eight hours of community service
w Character and work ethic
w Athletic ability
“We definitely want to support those kids who’ve made that commitment to themselves in the classroom,” he said. “Certainly, we want kids who are above that — way above that. Because that’s exactly what our coaches are looking for — kids who can not only get into school, but can finish.”
Pule added organizing this bowl game is also a bit of a personal mission for himself.
“I spent 11 years trying to coach football, trying to win a football game. During that time, working as a police officer, I found myself in the end arresting the kids I used to coach,” he said. “I’ve missed out on the chance to help them prepare and be responsible adults. I now want to help our kids set up their own expectations of themselves in a positive way.”
Tickets will be available at the gate at Vidinha Stadium. Cost is $10 for adults (13 years old and older) and $5 for seniors and children 12 years old and under.