Yesterday, University of Hawaii football player James Fenderson woke up to a dream.
"I feel so blessed ... so blessed," said Fenderson, choking back emotion, as he recalled the journey that led to his invitation to play in next weeks nationally televised Hula Bowl all-star football game.
"Were so happy for James," UH coach June Jones said. "To come from where hes come from, its a fantastic story, the stuff movies are made of."
It was in September of 1999 that Fenderson, a Mililani High graduate in his first season at UH, was living in his pickup truck.
As a nonscholarship player, most of his money went to tuition and books. What little he had left was spent on instant ramen, bread and fruit.
He would study at UHs Hamilton Library, then read in the drivers seat of his truck until he fell asleep.
Sometimes, he would sleep on his friends floors or couches at the dormitory, grateful for the hospitality of teammates Jonathan Kauka, Tavis Campbell, Shawn Withy-Allen, Jamal Garland, Dee Miller, Feiamma Armstrong and Channon Harris.
"There were so many people who helped me," Fenderson said.
Then last summer, out of money and nearly exhausted from chasing the dream of playing college football, Fenderson was summoned to a team meeting. In the hush of the athletic department auditorium, in front of the entire team, Jones awarded Fenderson a full scholarship.
"I was so happy," Fenderson said. "I wanted to cry, but I didnt. I couldnt do that in front of my teammates."
The scholarship provided Fenderson with tuition, a place to stay and steady meals. It also afforded him the opportunity to continue playing football.
When senior running backs Afatia Thompson and Avion Weaver suffered injuries, Fenderson was elevated to starter. He led the Warriors in rushing, running for nearly 1,000 yards.
In the locker room before UHs final game of the 2000 season, Fenderson tearfully spoke of his struggles, offering thanks to his teammates and an embrace to Jones.
"Hes a perfect example of what you look for, not just in a player, but in a person," Jones said. "He overcame tremendous odds to accomplish what he accomplished in life."
The topper came yesterday when Hula Bowl executive Lenny Klompus invited Fenderson to play in the Jan. 20 game.
"It feels great," Fenderson said. "Ive been waiting and hoping and praying that I would get in."
Said Jones: "Im very happy for James. I appreciate Lenny and the Hula Bowl supporting our program. James will be a real diamond in the rough for the (pro) scouts over there."