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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, November 27, 2008

Warriors' Watson has come of age

By Stephen Tsai
HawaiiWarriorBeat.com Editor

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser
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FOOTBALL FACTS

WHO: Washington State (2-10, 1-8 Pac-10) at Hawai'i (6-5, 5-3 WAC)

WHEN: Saturday, 6:05 p.m.

WHERE: Aloha Stadium

TV: Live OC Pay-Per-View (Dig. Ch. 255). Delay, KFVE-TV (Ch. 5), Sunday, 10 a.m.

RADIO: Live, ESPN 1420 AM

TICKETS: $34 (sideline), $29 (South end zone), $22 (North end zone: adults), $19 (North: senior citizens), $10 (North: students, ages 4-18).

ODDS: UH favored by 28 points

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Keala Watson, a defensive tackle for the Hawai'i football team, always has been ahead of his time.

He weighed 10 pounds at birth.

In the fourth grade, he was 5 feet 10 and 200 pounds.

He was banned from using the playground swings.

"I broke a swing when I was in elementary school," he said, sheepishly. "It's a tragedy."

As a student at Kaumualii Elementary on Kaua'i, he was assigned to a special section.

"Everybody had a little orange chair," Watson said. "I had a big brown teacher's chair at my desk. I guess there were perks. It was nice to have a big chair."

In the sixth grade, he was 6 feet.

As a freshman at Kaua'i High, he was 6-2 and shaving regularly.

"I was a man-child," Watson said.

"When I was a freshman, everybody thought I was a senior," he said.

He transferred to Nanakuli High, where Leona his classmate and future wife also thought he was a senior. She realized he was younger when they were in the same world geography and Hawaiian classes the next year.

As a Nanakuli senior, he grew out his sideburns. Then he grew a goatee.

"I had more facial hair than my teachers," he said, smiling.

The perception did not change when he went to UH.

"My freshman year, on senior night, everybody's parents were giving me leis," Watson said. "They thought I was a senior. It's happened every year since I've been here. I always get a lei on senior night from random people."

Even teammates were fooled.

"The first time I saw him was my first day of training camp (last year)," defensive tackle Josh Leonard said. "I thought he was, like, 25. I didn't find out he wasn't a senior until our first game (of 2007)."

Now Watson is entering the twilight of his UH career. The fifth-year senior's penultimate regular-season game is Saturday against Washington State.

"I've had a lot of fun," Watson said.

He had a breakout game against Idaho the past Saturday, making two sacks and helping the Warriors dominate the line of scrimmage in a 49-17 victory.

"It was frustration," Watson said. "I didn't smell that much playing time in the previous three weeks going against passing teams. Now we're finally back into that running mentality."

Watson is a youth leader in his church. Off the field he is polite and respectful.

On the field, he said, "there's a certain way to conduct yourself, especially for a defensive lineman. You really need that kick-butt mentality to be successful."

It is why he enjoys playing defensive tackle.

"That's where real men are born in the trenches," Watson said. "I like playing football. It's a way to channel the energy."

Unfortunately for Watson, he was whistled for an unsportsmanlike conduct against Idaho, a shockingly uncharacteristic action from the UH co-captain.

"We were surprised," Leona Watson said. "My father-in-law was more surprised."

Watson apologized. "I shouldn't have done that," he said.

With graduation and a baby on the way, Watson is looking ahead happily.

As for the name of the Watsons' son, who is due in February, he said: "I think it's going to be a game-day decision."

NEWS AND NOTES

  • Left widout Greg Salas punctuated yesterday's practice with a leaping one-handed reception of a Greg Alexander pass. The reception drew oohs and applause from the usually critical defense. "It was cool," Salas said.

  • Slotback/running back Kealoha Pilares was unable to practice because of a sprained right foot, increasing the likelihood he might not play against Washington State.

    Reach Stephen Tsai at stsai@honoluluadvertiser.com.