Isle standouts make 11th-hour decisions
• Photo gallery: National Letter of Intent signing day
By Wes Nakama
Advertiser Staff Writer
The different baseball caps were brought for a good reason, after all.
In a couple of surprise decisions yesterday by two of Hawai'i's top college football prospects, Punahou School safety Jeremy Ioane and Farrington defensive end VJ Fehoko signed national letters of intent with Boise State University and Utah, respectively.
Two other top recruits, Kahuku defensive end Kona Schwenke and Kapolei safety Shaydon Akuna, signed with Notre Dame and Oregon State, respectively.
Ioane, 5 feet 11 and 195 pounds, said he made his decision Tuesday night and turned down offers from Notre Dame and Washington. During yesterday's mass signing of 75 O'ahu athletes at the Sheraton Waikīkī's Kaua'i Ballroom, Ioane sat with the caps of all three schools in front of him on a table, then deliberately slipped on the blue-and-orange Broncos hat about 15 seconds after putting his name to the paper.
"I was talking with my parents, and I felt comfortable with (Boise State)," Ioane said. "I could see myself there."
Ioane visited Boise State the week of Dec. 15, Washington Jan. 18 and 19 and Notre Dame this past weekend, and said his decision was mostly "based upon my trips." Ioane's visit to Boise was reportedly delayed several times due to cold weather and fog, but he said yesterday, "I could see myself living there."
Fehoko, whose father, Vili, is the University of Hawai'i's Warrior football mascot, has been playing the Polynesian drums at UH home games since he was 5 years old, all the way through last season. He told The Advertiser late Monday afternoon that he had narrowed his choices to UH and Utah.
Yesterday, Fehoko said he made his decision just before signing his letter of intent.
"It was stressful, pretty crazy," said Fehoko, a 5-11, 220-pounder who is projected to play linebacker at Utah. "My decision came straight from the heart. UH was always a strong pull for me and it was really hard to turn them down — it was like turning down a family member. I grew up cheering only for the green and white, and hating every other team. It was a grueling process, sitting down with my mom and dad, going back and forth. "
Fehoko said he ultimately chose Utah based on a better opportunity to move up the depth chart. After signing, he picked up the black Utah hat with the red-and-white logo and put it on.
"They lose all three of their starting linebackers (to graduation), and UH only loses Blaze (Soares)," Fehoko said. "I fit their package, it was the situation I was put in to compete sooner (for playing time)."
Schwenke (6-3, 215) was rated as The Advertiser's top local prospect. He had made a verbal commitment earlier to Brigham Young, but that scholarship offer was revoked after he made an official visit to Notre Dame this past weekend.
If Schwenke did not sign with Notre Dame yesterday, he planned to visit Washington this weekend. But he made it official yesterday morning at Kahuku, making the potential UW visit moot.
"I pretty much made up my mind the day after I came back (Monday)," Schwenke said of Notre Dame. "I thought it was the best place for me. I liked the campus, the people, I enjoyed the school. I love the football program and their academics. It amazed me."
Schwenke will be joining two fellow North Shore residents — Punahou grads Manti Te'o and Robby Toma — who just completed their freshman season at Notre Dame.
"We grew up playing on sports teams against each other," Schwenke said. "I watched almost every Notre Dame game (on TV), and going there, it was a big eye-opener. It's a one-of-a-kind place."
Schwenke said during his visit, he got to slap the famed "PLAY LIKE A CHAMPION TODAY" sign leading to the tunnel toward the field at Notre Dame Stadium.
"The first time I saw that was in (the movie) 'Rudy,' " Schwenke said. "To see it in real life, to touch the sign and walk through the tunnel, it gave me chicken skin. It made me feel the vibe and the spirit of Notre Dame."
Schwenke, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (which is affiliated with BYU), said it was tough to sacrifice the Brigham Young offer but is comfortable going to Catholic-affiliated Notre Dame.
"It was really tough, stressful (to forgo BYU)," Schwenke said. "But in the end, I'm glad I picked Notre Dame. They don't treat (Mormons) any different; you're still a Fighting Irish."
Akuna, 6-3 and 220 pounds, chose Oregon State over Florida State. He also was considering offers from Arkansas and West Virginia.
"(Oregon State) is the perfect fit," Akuna said. "I felt comfortable there, I think I fit right in with the program and the school."
Kapolei coach Darren Hernandez said Akuna can bench press 415 pounds, squat 525 and dead lift 505.
"He can easily build up to (weighing) 240," Hernandez said. "Oregon State was in the game from the beginning, since the end of his sophomore year, and they never wavered. They have so many coaches with Hawai'i ties and they're really good with the Polynesian kids. They were enthusiastic about him and were on him from the get-go."
Read his blog on high school sports at http://preptalk.honadvblogs.com