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Pair of Hawaii football camps provide fun and memorable experiences

Paul Honda July 11, 2021


Kahuku players Wahieloa Emmsley, left, and Jamerus Tai Hook went after the ball on Friday.

Two big camps, two long flights and two amazing experiences.

Kingston Gaoteote flew all the way from California to participate in the inaugural Empower Educate Elevate Football Camp on Friday. The seventh grader from Union City stayed with an uncle and his family just to participate in the camp, hosted by Los Angeles Chargers defensive back Alohi Gilman and his Ho‘omana Lifestyle Foundation.

He turned out to be one of the top players in the 8-12 age group, snagging every spiral high and low. He also turned out to be the fastest athlete, which led wide receivers coach Chad Owens, the former CFL and Hawaii standout, to join the final race. Owens, of course, still has the burners, running a stride ahead of the youngster and joking with him as they covered 40 yards with other keiki.

“I’m just here for the camp, having a vacation, having a good time,” said Gaoteote, who stayed with uncle Josh Gaoteote and family. “It was very fun. Very passionate.”

The young playmaker has a 4.0 grade-point average.

“I like racing and also meeting the guys out here, meeting the coaches. It was very fun,” he said.

The event drew more than 400 young players combined, from 8-year-olds to high schoolers, as well as a surplus of top coaches and former college and high school standouts. Gilman, the former Kahuku, Navy and Notre Dame standout, coached alongside his father, Asai. After the early session, keiki kept him busy signing autographs on their camp shirts for 20 minutes.

“My hope is that they come here and they leave with a piece of information, of knowledge, inspiration, anything. If I can do that, I did my job well,” Gilman said.

Then, less than 12 hours later on Saturday morning, the Polynesian Bowl Combine was underway on the same turf at Farrington High School’s Skippa Diaz Stadium.

Young phenoms like Kanoa Ferreira got their chance to shine in the daylong event.

Three hours of fundamental work under a blistering-hot sun didn’t slow Ferreira, who was rated as one of the top eighth grade prospects nationally a year ago. Then came the cancellation of football season, an opportunity to attend IMG Academy, and eventually, a decision to transfer from Campbell to Mililani.

The work ethic and talent remain the same. Ferreira, Gavin Hunter, Keawe Andres, Josh Gleason and Kaden Baptista were named the top five receivers at the combine. The long day, the constant footwork drills, running routes without an active ball in play in the first hour-plus — all of it was par for the course in Ferreira’s world.

“It’s pretty much what I expected from the itinerary that was sent to us. Running certain routes and plays in the 7-on-7s,” said Ferreira, who believes he had more than 50 snaps in the sevens. “I train with Coach Samson (Anguay), so I expected to work on my fundamentals with him.”

Baptista’s football voyage, like several others from the islands, involved a move to the continent. He was a Konawaena football and baseball player, but moved to Villa Park, Calif., when the 2020 football season was squashed. The move gave him a chance to play, and even with a late start, he got into four games. That was enough to pique the attention of several mid-major programs on the West Coast — as a defensive back.

“I originally came here for DB, and they played me back and forth,” said Baptista, who started at free safety and wide receiver as a junior. “I miss Kona, but Kona’s always going to be there. Moving opened up college options.”

There aren’t any offers yet, but he has interest from UNLV, Oregon State, Michigan, Utah, Utah State, Dixie, UNLV, Navy and Air Force.

The quarterback play was sensational, for the most part, under the watchful eyes of coach Galu Tagovailoa, father of Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. Brothers John-Keawe Sagapolutele of Punahou and Justin Sagapolutele of Saint Louis, Kini McMillan and Mana Tarape of Mililani, along with Saint Louis’ Kekahi Graham, were named to the top-five list.

“It’s an honor to get an award from Polynesian Bowl Combine. It’s a great camp. I had a lot of fun. Hopefully, I can get selected as one of the participants for the bowl game,” Graham said.

The heat of the day was moderated a bit by strong tradewinds and the slightest drizzle in the afternoon.

“The wind definitely helped. It was a long day,” Polynesian Bowl director Rich Miano said. “The combine started at 8 o’clock this morning. We had the ‘Men in the Trenches’, Jesse Sapolu and Maa Tanuvasa. That thing was going strong.”

“Three different combines and the skills clinic that we wrapped up at 2:30, so it’s been a long day for the coaches and for the kids.”

The recognition of the top players at all position groups didn’t come with trophies or plaques. But the internal competition leads to excellence, iron sharpening iron, for one full day each year.

“We want to recognize these kids. As Galu and Jesse, guys like Michael Bennett said, hey, this means you performed the best today. Doesn’t mean you’re better than someone else. It doesn’t mean you can’t be better than that person. We want to give out some awards for who we thought performed the best today. We took some pictures with the guys and it was a wonderful day.”

Eventually, 24 Hawaii athletes will be selected to play in the Polynesian Bowl.

Being back in Hawaii with his wife, Diane, Galu Tagovailoa saw the drive and hunger to excel in Saturday’s campers.

“It’s just nice to come back and see these kids, and they understand the grind. At one point, we were here. But we want to be here now to kind of make them understand if we can do it anybody else can do it from the islands,” he said. “It’s amazing. During a pandemic, these kids sacrifice and work out at the parks on their own, wanting to get better. That’s something you’ll never see from anywhere else.”

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