Tavita “Tui” Eli can breathe a little easier — The University of Hawaii just offered him a scholarship.
“I’m really excited and grateful for this opportunity,” Eli said. “When the coach came to visit us I figured he would keep in touch and give us a few calls. But (Monday) when the phone rang and it was (UH offensive line coach Chris Naeole) on the other end, I was surprised and excited. My mom was tearing up and my dad was asleep — and he usually does not wake up for anything — but he popped right up and was stoked, too.”
The 6-foot-4, 280-pound, two-way lineman, is touted as one of the island’s top recruits and has worked hard for the opportunity to play at the next level. He has made an impact on the field, earning first team All-BIIF honors his junior year and continuing his top play in the trenches for the Waveriders, but has also earned high marks academically. Eli recorded a qualifying SAT score his junior year and has managed to maintain a high grade point average as a student-athlete — likely reasons the Warriors offered him a scholarship this early in the process.
“My family is always pushing me to succeed academically as well as on the field,” Eli said. “I try to set a good example.”
Despite being ecstatic about the offer, Eli has yet to commit to UH. The senior has garnered interest from other schools, according to Kealakehe head coach Sam Papalii, and he anticipates Eli will take his time before making his decision.
“He has not visited the campus, so it’s hard to commit to somewhere before you do that,” Papalii said. “I know there are a few other places still looking at him. He’s also an academic guy so it will depend on what he wants to study.”
If Eli does end up a Warrior, he will be the fourth player Papalii has coached during his tenure at Kealakehe to go to the hometown team. 2006 graduate Bo Montgomery made the team as a walk-on, 2007 graduate Levi Legay earned a scholarship and played four years with the Warriors, and Eli’s former teammate and 2013 graduate David Fangupo is scheduled to join the team this spring.
The Warriors have also expressed interest in fellow Waverider offensive lineman Feke Sopoaga-Kioa. Papalii has spoken with the UH staff and described Sopoaga-Kioa as being “still very in the mix.”
Eli’s offer comes on the eve of Kealakehe’s biggest game of the year — the BIIF Division I championship against Hilo. However, Papalii thinks his senior captain will not be distracted by the news.
“It’s not an issue,” Papalii said. “A guy like him is focused anyway. This just confirms for him that all his hard work has been worth it. It’s motivation and can push him to be even more dominant. He can play relaxed knowing he has a scholarship on the table.”