Family members and friends at Kelii Kekuewa’s house will be glued to the television set from 9:30 a.m. on Saturday, tuned in to ESPN to watch midmajor Bowling Green take on Florida.
The 2010 Kamehameha-Hawaii graduate, a 6-foot, 3-inch, 320-pound junior, won the starting center spot for the Falcons (5-7 last season) after transferring from Arizona Western College, which finished runner-up for the juco national championship.
He’ll be one of several local products playing on TV or having their games chronicled. Shane Brostek (’12 Hawaii Prep) is a left guard on the two-deep depth chart at Washington, which plays San Diego State. The game will be on the Pac-12 network.
Akoakoa Paleka-Kennedy (’12 Kamehameha) is the starting center at AWC, and the third center of Polynesian descent, following Kekuewa and Benson Maafala from Oahu’s Mililani High. AWC will play Ellsworth (Iowa) Community College in an inaugural tripleheader at Pueblo, Colo., between conference foes. The game will be picked up by the school’s website, azwestern.edu.
They are not the only former Big Island Interscholastic Federation players to break into the starting lineup.
CJ Hoohuli and Colby Cabatu (both ’11 Kamehameha), and Scotty Wong (’11 Hilo) are the starting guard, defensive end and linebacker at Ventura (Calif.) Junior College, respectively.
Bruce Kekuewa, Kelii’s dad and a Kamehameha assistant, helped land Hoohuli, Cabatu and a bunch of others at Ventura and did the same for Paleka-Kennedy and Jacy Pagala (’12 Keaau) for women’s basketball at AWC.
After the 2011-12 school season, more than 45 BIIF players signed college scholarships, including a dozen for football. On the gridiron, the bases were covered from Division I, II, III, NAIA and junior colleges.
Isaiah Correa (’12 Waiakea) is also joining Paleka-Kennedy at AWC, which is turning into a BIIF collegiate pipeline because of Kekuewa’s contacts.
“I’ve always said there’s a place for everyone,” he said. “The kids from the Big Island have really bought into wanting to go outside of the island and state to experience not only football on the continent, but experience life outside the home for personal and athletic growth.
“The key to getting a scholarship is to remember the student part comes first, the athlete second. They should worry about the NCAA clearinghouse as soon as they become freshmen (in high school). They’ve increased the amount of credits and hours. They can’t rely on someone else to do the legwork for them.”
Kekuewa’s suggestion is to contact schools on a weekly basis and compile a packet that includes video; or a link online to video; transcripts and a biography. Then the focus should be on schools that show interest.
Besides his son and Brostek, the others to sign Division I scholarships were Kealakehe’s Pslam Wooching, Washington; Konawaena’s Mike Andrade, Hawaii; Kamehameha’s DJ Grant-Johnson, Navy; and Pasi Toki (’09 Kealakehe), Idaho.
Division I offers don’t grow on trees, and it was something of a rarity that six, including four from the 2011- ’12 graduating class, landed those deals.
“Sometimes the kids and parents need to be realistic. I know a lot want to play Division I,” Kekuewa said. “But maybe you have to go to Division I-AA or Division II or the JC route to prove yourself and in two years go back out.
“When you make videos, you have to make sure the first two or three minutes are the best. A lot of times coaches will look at hundreds of tapes. After the first 15 or 20 seconds, they’ll shut it off. You need something that grabs them. ... They’re also looking at conduct on the sidelines. You also have to always be around the ball.”