Q&A: ‘Rough and tumble’ Punahou playmaker and WSU commit Alaka‘i Gilman
Punahou's Alaka'i Gilman hits the weight room as hard as he hits the classroom. Photo by Dennis Oda/Star-Advertiser.
Growing up in Laie means Laie Park is a part of life for football players who often end up at Kahuku.
Occasionally, they end up elsewhere. Alaka‘i Gilman grew up playing at Laie Park and wound up becoming a standout safety for No. 3 Punahou. He committed to Washington State during the offseason, but his heart will always be at this modest, clean football field and basketball court. The painted wooden bleachers are still on the sideline. Not a single bit of graffiti anywhere.
“Laie Park is a historic place. That’s where my competitive juices came out. If you’re not from there and you go there, little kids will be calling you out, ‘What, like race? Like play rough and tumble?’ “
Rough and tumble?
“Rough and tumble is pretty much, you just catch the ball, run around until someone tackles you, and once you get tackled, throw the ball and the next person is up. That’s kind of where I grew up in this culture, what this place has built, kids with competitive and hard-head mind-sets where they going to go out and lick you, and do their best to run you over and tackle you, throw you to the ground, whatever,” he said. “That’s why there’s so many crazy athletes that have come out of this place, this small part of the island that is so world-wide known. A place like Laie Park.“
Which, of course, leads to pogs. The milk-bottle cap game comes and goes like other fads in the islands, except it is still alive every summer at the place Gilman cherishes.
“That’s why they get thrown into the fire playing pogs. It’s big pog nation every summer at Laie Park,” he said.
Like many Kahuku area student-athletes of the past, going to a private school in the ILH was a tough choice.
So was the choice to stick it out rather than return to a more comfortable nest, particularly before senior year. Gilman stuck out the difficult road, and has thrived at Punahou with a 3.6 grade-point average. But like anyone else, there were always friends who wouldn’t let go. Friends who wanted to see their childhood pal transfer to Kahuku for senior year.
Gilman is glad he didn’t waver. Punahou (5-0) is one of the top teams in the state in part because of Gilman’s talent, hustle and leadership for a defensive unit that was pummeled by graduation.
“We just thought it was the best fit for me, getting opportunities. It’s paid off in dividends. For us, my parents said we sacrificed al this time, money and effort into going to a school that’s helped you. It’s time to finish it up and get your diploma, and start the rest of your life,” said Gilman.
The road less traveled also means it can be lonely. For Gilman, having best friend and offensive lineman Solatoa Moeai as a car-pool traveler makes a huge difference. They’ll sing. They’ll sleep, or rather, Moeai will, during the 75-minute journey from Laie to Punahou each school morning.
“He acts like he can sing. I drive. He doesn’t have a license. Our families just car pool. He’s been my best friend since we were 5. Sometimes it’s hard in the car because it’s all squished,” Gilman said.
There are also the occasional chats with older brother Alohi, now in his junior season at Notre Dame.
“We’ve been the same kids since we were young. It’s somewhat the same, it depends on the topic. If one of us has a game coming up, we’ll send each other film,” Gilman said. “It’s either we’re cracking jokes with each other or he’s asking me what his caption on Instagram should be.
Q&A Alaka‘i Gilman Punahou football Senior 5-11, 185
Q&A / Favorites
Athlete Brian Dawkins (retired, Philadelphia Eagles) > My brother (Alohi) introduced me to him. He just plays with a limitless amount of passion. He plays the game with physicality. He’s super smart. He loves the game and he’s a technician at what he does.
Team I didn’t really have a team growing up. It was always certain guys I really liked that I would follow.
Favorite food at home Pork and beans with hot dogs > I tell my parents that when I get older and married, that’s going to be my main dish. My mom (Keawe) and my dad (Asai) make it for my birthday every year, that with homemade chicken katsu with my dad’s sauce. I’m not much of a cook myself. It’s got to have the meat with the beans. Portuguese sausage, Spam or Redondo hot dogs.
Favorite food eating out Chicken Katsu Curry, Manoa Ramen > When we eat out, we usually go there.
Hobby Surfing > Growing up, my family’s been big water people. We surf a lot, especially in the summer. When the conditions are good, we’ll go to Turtle Bay or travel down to Haleiwa. We have family and friends down there. We’ve been going there since we were kids. I’ve grown out of my board. It’s been family boards we’ve all used. My dad got me a standup board when I was young, but I’ve grown out of it. I’ve been doing that before I started football.
Movie The Benchwarmers > Everybody has watched it, or they should have by now. It’s about three old guys who create their own baseball team and play against little kids. They’re about 40-something years old. It’s a funny story about bullies and stuff.
TV show Hawaii 5-0 > I’ve watched all eight seasons of it. I know a couple guys who’ve been extras on the show. I would do it if I have time.
Video game Fortnite > It banned in my house when it’s clean-up time, when it’s weekdays or time to do other stuff, but when I’m just chillin’, I play it with my friends. I can go weeks without playing. When I’m not doing anything, I’ll jump on and call some friends to play. It’s getting serious now for some people.
Music artist > I don’t really have a favorite, but I have a playlist. Young Thug. Pre-game, I have a specific song I’m playing when we get off the bus, ‘Dreams and Nightmares’ by Meek Mill.
Teacher > Coach Chad Nishikawa. He teaches all levels of math and he was one of the first teachers when I came to Punahou during my freshman year. He was also my JV head coach. Jonah Ka‘akua. He taught the Bridge program that I was in going into Punahou. He’s also a dean now.
GPA > Right now, 3.6 or 3.7.
Class Sports Psychology > It’s a good class. Micah Pavich is the teacher. He’s a funny guy.
Motto/scripture > Our family motto is “Just Do You.” My dad uses an acronym called P.O.G. It’s being passionate, optimistic and grateful. Those things he preached to us as kid, especially those of us playing sports. Everyone’s passion is different. Being grateful causes you glad for every opportunity. That’s just how we were raised. You might not have everything, but there’s people in the world who don’t have anything at all.
What your mom says that you can’t forget? > Remember who you are. Everywhere I go, she’ll always text me, ‘Remember who you are, son.’ For me that carries a lot of weight, where I come from, my family, it means a lot to me. She’ll tell me before games, and make sure that I pray.
What your dad says that you can’t forget? > He says a lot of things to me, but he and my mom always express how much they love me. My dad expresses how happy he is, how proud he is. Both of them.
What your coaches say that you can’t forget? > I’ve had so many coaches. My dad’s been my main coach. With him, it’s just being a technician at what I do. He always preaches, master your craft. Put in the work. You can’t just show up on game day and expect to do great things. The work you do in the offseason will show up on game day. Having a love for the game and the passion is what my coaches preached to me. It shows when you put all your effort into it.
How does football affect your life? > My schedule is centered around football. Waking up early, going to school, then practice. In the offseason, it’s always been centered around practice, workouts, lifts, meetings. When you play football seriously and it’s something you want to do, it’s non-stop. … Right now, it’s about maintaining my strength and weight.
Middle school and elementary school > I kind of had a crazy journey. I started out at Laie Elementary, and I got into Kamehameha in fourth grade. In seventh grade, our family moved to Orem (Utah). I went to Canyon View Junior High. Then we came back after that year and I went to Kamehameha. After that year, I went to Punahou.
Was there any discussion when your family returned about which school to attend? > It wasn’t simple at all. There’s so many things that go into it like financial, commuting, sports. We chose the best opportunity for me. I try and do my best to pay for lunch, so I’ve been working at school in the athletic office. Whatever I make from that I use for lunch.
Youth teams > The first sport I played was soccer, and basketball. Then I played tackle football in fourth or fifth grade. It was, my brother did it. My dad did it. My brother was a big soccer guy. My sister is big into soccer. We had the AYSO here, and the PAL Basketball League. I was always playing up in age with my brother. It’s all good. I did play volleyball for Kamehameha in fourth, fifth and sixth grade. I kind of stopped after that. I was digging balls.
Travel > My first trip when I was 9 years old. We took a rugby trip to New Zealand. The age we played was older than us. The tournament there was really fun. It was cold, but not that cold. We were there for a week. I’ve traveled to California, Utah, Nevada, Florida mainly for 7v7 and camps. Arizona, Texas. I’ve traveled to all these places because of football. Sometimes it’s hard to travel for football because of financial reasons. I was blessed to be able to travel because my dad works for Delta. Him and my mom are going up (to Notre Dame) to watch my brother play against New Mexico.
What are you good at, or something you like to do that would surprise people? > I play (guitar) and sing a little bit, just for fun. My family likes to sing. I’m not much of a singer or player, really.
Time machine. Where and when would you go? > I’d want to go to the ancient Hawaiian times of Kamehameha and check it out. We learned a lot, but we never really understand it. Just the lifestyle because it was way different from what it is now. I’d talk to Kamehameha, but I don’t know how I’d get to him. But I’d want to talk to him.
Bucket list > I’d want to surf in Indonesia or some place like that. Waves that are not too big. I’d want to have a jersey swap with my brother if we’re both in the NFL. I wrote that down in a journal for one of my classes. Our whole family wears (jersey number) 11. If that were to ever happen, that would be cool.
What is the history of your name? Most of my name came from a dream from my grandma before I was born. Abby Waiwaiola Harris. She’s pure Hawaiian. She had a dream that when I grow up I was going to be a leader. A lot of stuff happened in the dream that I don’t remember. It means the leader sent from heaven to guard the seventh island. My middle name is my mom’s name. My grandma had the vision and my parents came up with the name. All of my siblings have longer Hawaiian names that have meanings.
My last name goes back to this guy, Chuchu Gilman. He was a Native American settler who came to Hawaii. It all passed down. I’m not exactly sure where in Hawaii. My dad has a scroll that traces the line.
Shout outs Shout out to my family, my friends for being supportive. Shout out to all those who believed in me an supported me to grow whether it was positively or negatively. I came from a place where I learned to grow.