His speed came naturally, a gift from his parents.
He added fancy footwork to his repertoire through hard work in his yard at home.
Once Nakaiya Kerr learned to master the emotional and mental aspects of soccer as a senior, he became a nearly unstoppable force for Christian Liberty, making him a natural choice for Big Island Interscholastic Federation Division II Player of the Year.
“It’s something that I always wanted to get during my high school career,” Kerr said. “I was pretty stoked.”
For a prolific scorer such as Kerr, winning the honor was probably just a matter of time. He scored 35 goals this past season — easily the best on the island — after bagging 25 as a junior.
But Canefire coach Troy Rimel saw his star striker come a long way in one respect.
“Basically, he improved his self-control,” Rimel said. “Being able to control his emotions and to use that to motivate the rest of the team. He did an amazing job to become one of our emotional leaders.
“I’ve never been more pleased with how a player matured.”
Because of Kerr’s slender 5-foot-7, 150-pound frame, opponents’ best chance to stop him was to try to knock him off the ball and play physical. During a rugged game against Hilo last season, Kerr lost it. He threw a punch at an opposing player, sparking a bench-clearing brawl and a four-game suspension from Rimel.
“I had to learn to keep my cool,” Kerr said. “I wasn’t going to let others bother me. I had to honor the game.”
He earned the trust of his teammates enough to be voted a captain at the beginning of his senior season, and what followed was a bevy of hat tricks as he and forward Louis Moylan combined to score more than 50 goals.
Christian Liberty landed a league-best five players on the coaches’ All-BIIF first-team. Kerr and Moylan were joined by midfielder Sequoya Kerr — Nakaiya’s younger brother — fullback Caedan Cambra and goalkeeper Kiyoshi Kaili. Honokaa was represented by midfielders Tony Connors and Jevin Dement and fullback Aukanai Kapu. Also voted on were fullback Blake Hooser and forward Kama Hurwitz from league champion Hawaii Preparatory Academy and Kamehameha’s Logan Uyetake (midfielder) and Kama Kawamoto (forward). Honokaa’s Maurice Miranda was Coach of the Year.
One of the skills that makes Nakaiya Kerr such a dangerous player is his ability to use either foot — something he helped teach himself through homemade drills. As a youngster, he’d take a ball out in the yard and try to kick it over his parents’ house. Then he’d try to hit a tree from 40 to 50 yards.
“It’s a testimony to getting better by working out on your own,” Rimel said.
Kerr said his American Youth Soccer Association coaches worked with him as he developed a quick burst that often left defenders flat-footed, but he credited genetics as well.
“Both my parents are extremely fast,” Kerr, Christian Liberty’s first Player of the Year since Richard Moylan in 2010, said.
His father, Peter, was a state champion mixed martial artist, while his mother, Jinna, studied ballet.
Rimel considers Kerr and Isaac Grotenshuis the two most dangerous players he’s coached at Christian Liberty. While Grotenshuis went on to be a standout at NAIA Cornerstone University, Kerr said he’s been talking to a handful of Division II schools, including the University of Hawaii at Hilo.
As a four-year starter, Kerr was on three teams that finished BIIF runner-up —including one-goal losses the past two seasons — but Kerr said the small-school Canefire of Keaau created many memorable moments along the way.
“Even though we didn’t win any championships,” he said, “what’s more important is we got respect in the community and made them proud.”