Now there's no second-guessing Kalilimoku's decision to try again
By Dennis Anderson
Advertiser Staff Writer
Chad Kalilimoku could have been bagging groceries this week at Safeway in Kapolei.
Instead, he is packing his bags for an all-expenses paid trip to Salt Lake City, where he will be pampered this weekend as a highly sought football recruit of the University of Utah.
Kalilimoku last week was named second-team Junior College All-America by J.C. Grid Wire, the most respected media observer of community college football.
Kalilimoku, a linebacker, didn't see such a future for himself when he graduated from Roosevelt High School in 1999. "I was ready to end it after high school," he said. "I didn't think I could play at the next level."
After a couple unhappy months not playing at a small college in Missouri, he came home and went to work at Safeway Kapolei and at a warehouse in Pearl City Industrial Park.
But his parents, Roosevelt assistant coach Fred Kalilimoku and Roxanne, his grandparents, an uncle and friends believed Chad could play and kept urging him to try.
They and former Roosevelt teammate Elia Tauala finally convinced Chad to join Tauala and some other Rough Rider alums for the 2000 football season at Santa Ana (community) College in California.
Kalilimoku immediately convinced everyone except himself that he was an extraordinary linebacker. "I didn't begin to believe in myself until I started getting all those awards," after last season, he said. He broke the Santa Ana school record for tackles, was chosen All-Mission Conference and got the team's coveted Big Hitter award.
The honors and accolades continued to pile up this season, as has interest from four-year colleges.
"He's had a phenomenal two-year run," Santa Ana coach Dave Ogas said. "He's as good a linebacker as we've had in my 26 years here."
Santa Ana's defense was designed to funnel ballcarriers toward Kalilimoku in his middle linebacker position and "he did not disappoint," Ogas said. "He scrapes downhill, attacking the line of scrimmage and taking on the lead blocker. You can hear the crack when he hits. Then he uses his leverage."
Kalilimoku is such an outstanding athlete that Ogas even played him at fullback a little in his last game. "He can catch the ball and is as good a field-goal kicker as we have," Ogas said.
Kalilimoku, 6 feet and 240 pounds, has run a 4.65 40 in shorts on grass, has benched pressed 495 pounds and done 225 pounds 33 times and squat-lifted 680.
In addition to Utah, where friend Tauala had shoulder surgery and redshirted this season, Kalilimoku has heard from Southern California, LSU, Illinois, Idaho, Indiana and Utah State. Washington State coach Mike Price came to Santa Ana and talked to him last week about joining Jason Gesser in Pullman.
But Kalilimoku's heart appears to be at Hawai'i, which he said also has offered him a scholarship. "I catch the UH games on TV at my job (a sports restaurant). I always see (former Roosevelt teammates) Chad Owens and Chad Kapanui playing.
"I kind of want to go home ... it would be awesome if I could contribute.
"I'm one of the fortunate ones who got a second chance," Kalilimoku said. "My family and friends believed in me more than I did. ... I wasn't playing up to my ability; I should have been. But now I'm molding it together and I feel I can go wherever I want to. I've just got to work at it."
And this 20-year-old from Pauoa Valley has some advice for 18-year-old high school athletes in Hawai 'I:
"Make the best of the first opportunity you have. Not everyone gets a second chance."
EXTRA POINTS: Chad Kalilimoku was among seven Roosevelt graduates at Santa Ana this season. Blake Harano, a two-year starter, was second-team all-conference and led Santa Ana with 44 receptions for more than 600 yards. .... Freshman Wade Rodrigues, a center in high school, started in double tight-end situations and was especially effective on screen passes, coach Dave Ogas said. ... Kala Koki, a 6-foot-4 defensive end, "has a career ahead of him," Ogas said. ... Akalia Fox reported late and was the No. 3 quarterback. ... Freshman Stanley Waikeola backed up Kalilimoku at middle linebacker. ... Sophomore Ronald Tauala, a defensive tackle, redshirted to get his academics up to par. ... Santa Ana is 10 minutes from Disneyland and 20 minutes from Newport Beach with a cross-cultural mix of Pacific Islanders, especially Samoans, and Hispanics, Ogas said. "The Hawai'i players all rented a two-bedroom apartment near campus. They seem real happy," Ogas said. Elia Tauala, trailblazer of the Roosevelt connection, came to Santa Ana at the suggestion of his uncle, a police officer there. He was chosen Mission Conference Defensive Player of the Year in 1999 and was team Player of the Year in 2000. As Kalilimoku's host this weekend, he'll try to convince Chad to join the 20 players from Hawai'i at Utah.