LIHUE — For 12-year-old Kaeo Rita-Tupou, working with the Rainbow Warriors coaching staff was simply “fun.”
“I learned about all kinds of stuff. I learned ‘Warrior ball,’” Rita-Tupou said.
For the second year in a row, University of Hawaii football head coach Nick Rolovich and his staff — in collaboration with the Kauai County Department of Parks and Recreation — hosted a youth football camp late Wednesday morning at Vidinha Stadium.
“It was great. I thought it was really good,” Rolovich said following the camp. “Everybody coming together — the County, Park and Recs, UH football — I saw a lot of smiles out here.”
He added: “So many people have gone in into making this thing work. We get so much love from this island. If this is a way we can pay it back a little bit, we enjoy that.”
About 200 girls and boys from around Kauai worked out with the coaches at the camp, which was free of charge for the participants.
“Our director, Lenny Rapozo, is really big with sponsoring clinics. Not only football, but all sports,” said Cindy Duterte, Chief of Operations, Recreation Division of Kauai County Department of Parks and Recreation.
“Even soccer, we’ve done with the University of Hawaii, just to give the kids an opportunity to learn a little bit more about the game that they’re interested in,” she continued. “And if you can get the coach from the University of Hawaii and his assistants, and players come down and give these kids a day of football clinic drills, we believe that’s pretty awesome and why not do something like that.”
Duterte said a majority of the keiki that participated came from the department’s summer enrichment program.
“First thing is have fun. Just have a fun day,” she said. “I see there’s a mixture of not only boys but girls in this football clinic. So, fun is the priority, (and) safety. And who knows? Maybe one day, these guys are going to end up playing flag football, then Pop Warner and high school football. You hope this will maybe become an interest for them.”
The keiki ran several offensive, defensive special teams drills during the two-hour camp.
Rolovich gathered the kids following the camp and made them take a pledge vowing to do well in their school work and their communities, make their families proud and promise to go to college.
“A lot of them obviously love being outside, playing sports and being competitive. But there comes a point where, you know, one can’t happen without the other,” he said. “They hear it. Sometimes it’s hard to say what age that is, but sometimes it’s good for a young person to hear the same message from somebody else, and then it kicks in.
“If you’re a father, if you’re a mother, you know what I’m talking about,” he continued. “Your kids won’t listen to you because you’re trying to tell them. They hear it from somebody else, and it just hammers it home if we can do that. Just to let them know that anything they want to be can be achieved if they put their mind to it.”
Rita-Topou, who plays linebacker and whose favorite player is Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, said he learned more than just football from the Rainbow Warriors coaches.
“I learned that, like, you have to do good in school first before you can get any scholarships or anything,” he said. “(It’s important) because without school, you can’t really get anywhere in life.”
Weather was a concern Duterte said because it had rained the last few day. But the sun shined throughout the camp.
“At the last hour, we put up a (canopy) over there because we had thunder and lightning forecasted for today,” she said. “It was like, ‘Oh, we got to call somebody to put up a (canopy). That was minor, though.”
Duterte hopes the camps with the UH staff will continue to be an annual event.
“I think his donation, his generosity, to come to Kauai and co-sponsor a clinic like this is pretty awesome,” Duterte said of Rolovich. “It’s giving back to the community, and you cannot ask for more than that.”
A “Meet the Coach” fundraiser will take place 5:30 p.m. today at the Kauai Community College dining room.
There, UH fans will get to talk story with Rolovich and the UH football staff. Tickets are $50 at the door. Food from Mark’s Place and Contemporary Flavors Catering will be at the served.
“There’s some tough questions that will come. I know that,” Rolovich said. “The support for UH Athletics on this island is pretty amazing. So, we’re happy to be here. I’ve been to this island eight times just this past year just for different things regarding UH football and support. Just really excited about it.”