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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, October 30, 2002

Family's sacrifice helped Esera find way to college

By Dennis Anderson
Advertiser Staff Writer

From a super-sized kid who hated football to a teenager who commuted inter-island to play the game to a starter at the second highest level of college football within six years — that's the capsule story of Troy Esera of Kapa'a, Kaua'i.

Troy Esera saw football as his ticket to college upon transferring to St. Louis School from Kapa'a High.

Ron Swords • Eastern Washington

Esera, a 2002 St. Louis School graduate, is the first true freshman in at least 13 years to start on the offensive line at Division I-AA Eastern Washington University.

Five years ago, his father had to beg Esera to attend a ninth-grade football tryout at Kapa'a High School. "I convinced him to try it one time," Tui Esera said. "I told him, 'At least I can take your picture in uniform and you can show it to my grandkids.' "

But when Troy put on the uniform, "It was love at first sight," his dad said.

"I was having fun meeting new friends and learning a new game," Troy recalled. "And when we started playing games, I really liked it."

After a promising introduction to football at Kapa'a in 1998, the Esera family made an agonizing decision about Troy's future.

Tui Esera, who had played at Farrington in the early '70s, could see that his son had the potential to earn a football scholarship. Troy's mom, Wendy, saw the opportunity for Troy to be the first member of the Esera family to go to college.

"We sacrificed for him to go to college," Tui Esera said. "We sent him to O'ahu to live with my brother Peter in Mo'ili'ili and go to St. Louis. It was a better opportunity."

Cal Lee, Troy's football coach at St. Louis, said: "I was shocked and in awe when Troy's father told me the family was splitting up so Troy could come to O'ahu to play. ... The first year, you could see Troy had something to offer."

Troy said: "Everybody at St. Louis thinks of it as a platform to higher education. I began to think of using football to go to college, too."

Tui Esera, a carpenter, did some work on campus to help pay Troy's tuition and Lee arranged a work program for Troy to get free lunches. "It was hard financially for us," Tui said, "but anything for the kids."

Troy started on the offensive line the past two years and last season he was chosen first-team all-state.

But big schools weren't calling. The University of Hawai'i invited him to be on the sidelines at home games but didn't offer a scholarship.

"His height (a shade under 6 feet) was always in question," Lee said.

So the Eseras took over the recruiting. "We made some tapes and sent them to five or six schools," Tui said. "Eastern Washington and Western Washington called and Eastern sent him a plane ticket to visit."

It was snowing when Esera's plane landed in Spokane on his recruiting trip. Aaron Best, Eastern Washington's offensive line coach, said: "I thought, 'We're going to lose this kid from Hawai'i.' But he was smiling. He told me, 'I love white rain!' "

Later in the visit, Best asked Esera if he had a girl friend. Troy answered: "No. Football and girls don't mix." Best's face lit up. He thought, "I finally found one!"

Esera suffered a concussion in fall camp, then a high-ankle sprain, and he was ticketed to redshirt this season. But the starting right guard was injured in the fourth game, his replacements weren't effective, and Esera was activated before the fifth game.

He started the sixth game on Oct. 12 and the Troy Esera story got even better.

"We were on the Portland State goal line, and I pulled and was the leading blocker." Esera said. "I hit my guy and was on the ground when the running back fumbled. I got up and grabbed it on the 3 and dove into the end zone — an offensive lineman's dream."

Best observed, "He landed square on his belly, and then he flipped the ball like he had scored 10 or 12 TDs."

The only touchdown of Esera's life put Eastern ahead 31-27, but the Eagles eventually lost 34-31. Their record now is 4-4.

Best says there are "three things that Esera possesses that make him outstanding. The biggest thing is his grip and hand strength — it's phenomenal. Second, he is a big, wide body — a space eater. Third, he has great feet. You don't find many guys who are 6 feet, 295 pounds and light on their feet.

"If he was 6-4 the bigger schools would have been all over him."

Esera is still adjusting to the climate in eastern Washington. "Are those ice cubes falling from the sky?" he asked Best during a recent hailstorm.