Monday, February 19, 2007

The Hawaiian Connection

I read an interesting article right after signing day in the USA Today (couldn't find a link) which described the burgeoning talent base of the Hawaiian islands, and how more and more programs are starting to dip into the pool. 43 Hawaiian high school seniors, to be exact, signed National Letters of Intent, with the majority of them signing on with Division I programs. And while the Rainbow Warriors and schools from the Pac-10 have long courted the talented athletes from the pacific island, more and more schools from "the mainland" are taking looks at the Island's prospects. One school which has started to dip into the talent pool is Navy, which will bring in two Hawaiian high school seniors in 2007, although both will first attend NAPS for a year. While some of this can certainly be traced to the Island's long tradition as a hub of naval activity in the Pacific, it also speaks volumes to the staff at the Naval Academy, which has established deep-routed connections with the high school programs on the Island.

Obviously one has to start with Coach Johnson, who was the offensive coordinator at Hawaii from 1987-1994. Ken Niumatalolo, Navy's offensive line coach and Hawaii recruiting coordinator, played quarterback under Johnson at Hawaii and later worked as a GA and assistant coach for the rainbow Warriors. Quarterbacks Coach Ivin Jasper also played quarterback for Hawaii under Johnson's direction, and served as a GA for a year under Johnson, as did Navy assistant Jeff Monken. Many of Hawaii's high school coaches played either with or for these men during the late 1980s and early 1990s, so getting a foot into the door isn't difficult when it comes to recruiting. Add in the fact that Kapolei head coach Darren Hernandez played for Hawaii and runs a very similar offense to the one Coach Johnson runs, and you have a perfect recipe for a pipeline program.

In a lot of ways Kaipo-Noa's ascension to starting quarterback paves the way for better recruiting on the Island as well. Here's a guy, who is by his own admission something of a surfer bum (and I use the word "bum" in a totally positive way), who ends up going halfway around the world to play football at one of the most academically challenging and military oriented Universities in this country. He's a guy who just begs media attention despite playing for a school which doesn't get a whole lot of it. Let's be honest, people perk their ears when you hear a name like "Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada," while the idea of having a dynamic athlete at quarterback is something sports writers and talking heads latch onto. In that way he becomes something of a trend setter, because he's a guy who plays in the here and now whom Hawaiian prospects can look at and say, "hey, why not Navy?" I'm not saying he's the reason guys like Santiago commit to this program (that would dumb if they did,) but he's certainly someone Coach "N" can point to as an example.

While Navy may have "only" landed slotback Aaron Santiago and linebacker Josh Andrews from the islands, the pieces are in order for Navy to have a continued impact on the islands recruiting. Air Force had been drawing several players from both Kapolei and the rest of the Islands, but a move away from the triple option could open the door more for Navy. In addition, if Kaipo ends up becoming the starter next year and continues to play well and earn more exposure, more inroads should open up across the Island. One of Navy's few recruiting advantages is that the Mids can draw on a large number of kids from a truly national perspective, which most schools of similar "mid-major" status can't always do that. When you factor in continued success in Texas, Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina, you're talking about bringing some pretty good talent to a school where talent is very difficult to attract.

(Photoby George F. Lee, Honolulu Star Bulletin)


Phelix said...

Ken Niumatalolo is responsible for recruiting Hawaii.

Adam said...

Eh, guess I should of just written Coach "N" all the way through. Thanks for catching that.

Papa said...

I wonder if a Hawaiian version of the haka will now show up at Canoe U.? But once they start recruting Samoans, and from Trinity-Euless High School near Dallas, it really will kick in.