Kikaha Kicking Kaka: What the Saints’ newest player has to offer
As the 2015 NFL preseason ends, theSaints’ defense still struggles to find their identity, despite the offseason acquisition of 2-time Super Bowl champion cornerback Brandon Browner. Rookie and 2nd round draft pick Hau’oli Kikaha, made his presence felt in the beginning of the preseason home opener against Browner’s former team, defending champion New England Patriots. In the first 2 plays of scrimmage, #45 pancaked Patriots veteran receiver Brandon Gibson and hammered the big tailback LaGarrette Blount for a 5-yard loss the very next play. His immediate impact surged the Saints’ troubled defense to hold off the Pats long enough to develop a 21-0 1st quarter lead, which unfortunately led to a 24-26 loss in the end. This 6 ft. 3’, 245 lb. linebacker runs a 4.9 second 40 yard dash, has a 34 1/2’ vertical jump, and led the NCAA in total sacks last season with the Washington Huskies.
The 2014 Consensus All-American racked up 19 sacks and 53 tackles in a 12 game season, as a senior linebacker. He also had 12.5 sacks and 45 tackles as a junior defensive end. The numbers are impressive, but his story before football really captivates, showcasing his character and relentlessness. Previously known as Hau’oli Jamora, he had never knowingly met his father until he was 16 years old. When he participated in the Hawaii High School Judo Championships, he discovered his father was one of his opponent’s coaches. After that experience, he changed his last name to his mother’s maiden name, Kikaha, in her honor. Along with his brothers, he and his mother moved to several cities and she worked several jobs in Hawaii, Texas, and California in hopes of a better life. He would eventually find himself playing football for the University of Washington, where he suffered 2 reconstructive knee surgeries as an underclassman. His resilience shines through his ability to attack the quarterback and the previously mentioned numbers is evidence of that.
Kikaha’s future looks bright with the Saints after the departure of linebacker Junior Galette. The 23 year old shows potential to be the bold tackler New Orleans has been missing for some time. Teammates and fans have been exited to see what he is capable of during practices and the previous preseason games. He has even earned the nickname “The Hawaiian Hunter” by the fans due to his ability to “hunt down” the ball carrier. Fans have also drawn comparisons between him and former Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu. Although Polamalu wasn’t born in Hawaii or even played the same position, the future Hall of Famer is of Samoan decent and was a great tackler at the pro level. The only difference between the two is Polamalu’s freakish athletic ability to intercept a pass while Kikaha never recorded one, either in college or this preseason. On the brighter side of things, he averaged 2.3 tackles per game, which is impressive for only playing 1½ quarter per game. After the 10-38 crushing loss to the Packers, Coach Sean Payton has a lot of defensive cuts to make before the September 8th deadline and it is for certain that Kikaha will make the team. The question that remains is whether we will see the Hawaiian Hunter take the field, as a starter, or become an impact coming off the bench. We will know for sure when the Saints travel to Arizona on September 13th to start the season against the Cardinals.