KAPAA — Twelve Division I college programs were vying to recruit perhaps Kauai’s most sought-after football prospect and on National Signing Day on Wednesday, the decision was made official.
Kapaa High School senior offensive lineman Morris Unutoa Jr. announced his commitment and signed his letter of intent to the University of Utah.
“I’m feeling really happy right now,” Unutoa said shortly after making the announcement. “I’m excited to go to Utah. Coming down to this day, it was a really tough decision. I was talking a lot with my family throughout the week.”
The finalists that Unutoa was considering were Utah, Brigham Young, Oregon, Virginia, Oregon State and Washington State. Other schools who made scholarships offers were University of Hawaii, Central Florida, Colorado, UNLV, San Jose State and Vanderbilt.
“My top three was Utah, BYU and University of Oregon,” Unutoa said. “I just prayed about it. The answer I got was to choose what was best for me and my family. When I talked it over with my family, I told them I felt the most comfortable with Utah. They were surprised, and they’re going to be behind me 100 percent. And I’m just thankful for them.”
Unutoa visited the Utes’ campus last week, which was his last recruiting trip. He left knowing Utah would be his choice.
“When I was over there, I just got this feeling inside knowing this was the place for me,” he said. “All the schools that were recruiting me are great. A lot of them are similar, so it was really hard for me to choose. The thing that stood out to me the most was the brotherhood that they have over there within the players, and just that feeling that I got that this was the place for me.”
Unutoa made the announcement Wednesday morning at the Bernice Hundley gym at Kapaa High School. Dozens of the school’s student body as well as family members and friends, school administrators and coaches were in attendance.
“I’m very proud of him,” said Unutoa’s father Morris Unutoa Sr. “All the hard work he’s done throughout the senior year and sticking with it, these are the blessings that come from hard work and doing the best you can. We’re very happy he chose Utah. It’s an awesome school.”
Unutoa Sr., a former National Football League offensive lineman and an alumnus of BYU, added he’s thrilled with his son’s choice even if it wasn’t his alma mater.
“There were times where that was the school I wanted him to go to. But at the same time, I wanted him to make his decision,” Unutoa Sr. said. “He did, and I’m very proud of him. It comes down to what a great opportunity he has to go to a university like Utah.”
He added: “Just want to thank everybody for their support. A dream, you know, it doesn’t matter where you go to school or where you play. It’s about how you conduct yourself and how you play. That makes a big difference in your future. … I’m so happy today. Today is a happy day for our family.”
This past high school football season, Kapaa won a third consecutive Kauai Interscholastic Federation championship and reached the Division II state football championship game for the second straight year.
During that time, the school was visited by numerous college coaches inquiring of Unutoa.
“Exciting. We’ve never had this situation in our school,” said Kapaa High varsity football head coach Philip Rapozo. “We’ve had guys that have gone on to college, but not getting recruited at this level. It’s an awesome thing for him, his family and the school — our whole Kapaa community.”
Rapozo added his former offensive lineman has all the tools to be successful at the collegiate level and believes Unutoa will be a good representative for not just the Kapaa community, but the entire island.
“He has all the fundamentals. He has the whole package, as far as his athleticism. He has everything,” he said. “Now, he’s going to get coached up at a different level. We do what we can. We’re not Utah, you know? He’s going to get a great opportunity. Hopefully, everything will work out great for him. And I think it will.”
Of the 19 total recruits committed to Utah, 14 of which are incoming freshmen, three are from Hawaii. Joining Unutoa are Aliki Vimahi (Kahuku, HI / Kahuku HS, DL) and Jordan Agasiva (Kalihi, HI / Pima CC, OL).
“We’re pretty well represented in a lot of different states,” said Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham on the university’s athletics website. “It was really great to get back in to Hawaii. We made an impact in Hawaii this year, which we hadn’t done in a few years. It was great to be able to pull the athletes out of Hawaii that we did.”
Unutoa believes he can make an immediate impact for the Utes program.
“Coming in this summer, even though I’m a freshman, I do feel I can bring leadership to the team,” he said. “I know I’m going to be a hard worker. I just got to give my 100 percent in everything I do over there.”
Unutoa added lastly: “I love my family. I love this school, and I love Kauai. I just want to thank my Heavenly Father for all he has blessed me with. Thank you.”