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College football: Paniolo pride drives UH’s Ewaliko

Updated: 
September 23, 2017 - 12:05am

Starting at the dawn’s early light, Hawaii football receiver Keelan Ewaliko spent his hanabata days working on the Diamond B Ranch in Makawao.

He fed and saddled the horses. He built and repaired fences. And during those sweltering Maui summers, he pulled weeds in pastures that could accommodate several football fields. He also helped brand cattle that did not want to be branded.

“They would rope it and drag it out, and we had to tackle it, and hold it down, and they’d brand it,” Ewaliko recalled.

It was tough “volunteer” work. Ewaliko did not receive a paycheck for his time on his relative’s ranch. For fun, Ewaliko would compete in bull-riding contests. He was just a kid doing what he was supposed to do; to others, he was a Hawaiian cowboy, a paniolo.

Hawaii and Wyoming will be playing for the Paniolo Trophy in Saturday’s game at War Memorial Stadium in Laramie, Wyo. The trophy actually is a recreation of the one that was lost following Wyoming’s secession from the Western Athletic Conference in 1999. The symbolism — not the actual trophy — is of strong interest to Ewaliko.

“Being a paniolo represents something for me,” Ewaliko said. “It’s a mind-set. Anyone can say they’re a paniolo. But if you go out and live the lifestyle — by being tough and taking on challenges and not being afraid — that’s what it means to be a paniolo.”

There is a screen saver of Ewaliko riding a bull — an image quarterback Dru Brown discovered when he borrowed Ewaliko’s laptop.

“The first time I used his computer, I saw that, and I was like, ‘Wow,’ ” Brown said.

Ewaliko’s ranching background has helped make him a receiver who is dependable (no drops in eight targets this year), tough (post-contact average of 3.0 yards), and fearless.

“He has that craziness to him, and that’s what makes him great at football, as well,” Brown said. “Anytime you can get on a bull that can kill you, you can play football.”

Ewaliko’s success can be attributed to his respect for bull riding and football.

“It’s always in my head,” Ewaliko said of the risks of working alongside 1,500-pound bulls. “It’s not like I can go up to it and play around with it. It just so happens that I love to do it. It takes away from the fear.”

This year, Ewalliko moved into an apartment with Brown and backup quarterback Kyle Gallup.

“I’m their living-room roommate,” Ewaliko said. “It’s the luck of the draw. (Brown) had a space for me, and I was looking for a good guy to be around. It so happened to be my quarterback. … I’m always there for that man. I’ll go across the middle. I’ll block a linebacker. Whatever he needs, I’m there for him.”

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