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Tuesday, September 9, 2003



[UH FOOTBALL]




Keliikipi to see
more time at RB

The 260-pounder came
out of nowhere to become
Hawaii's best blocking back


It was such a long wait for this moment that West Keliikipi III had given up on it. When he banged his hands against the side of his helmet like football players do at the start of a game, it was to make himself believe it was really happening; he didn't need to pump himself up. The opening kickoff of his first college football game. And he's one of the 11 players sprinkled on the Hawaii side of the Aloha Stadium field as the Warriors prepare to receive.



Hawaii at USC

When: Saturday, 10 a.m. Hawaii time
Where: Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Los Angeles, Calif.
TV: Live, Fox Sports Net
Radio: Live, KKEA 1420-AM
Early line: USC by 20 1/2



The kick comes, and Keliikipi does exactly as he was coached to do. He moves back to join four other blockers to create the wedge that will hopefully spring UH's return man for a touchdown.

But it doesn't go quite as he planned.

"The first time playing in five years," he says. "It was a rude awakening."

Keliikipi -- who hadn't played in a real football game since the 1998 season at Waianae High School -- gets hit hard in the ribs, and loses his wind.

He also loses his starting running back spot.

"He was slated to start," UH running backs coach Wes Suan said. "But he couldn't go in after that hit."

"That guy came out of nowhere," said his father, West Keliikipi, Jr., who was watching from the stands.

He could have been talking about the Appalachian State player who belted his son from the side, or about "Wessie" himself.

Keliikipi has certainly come out of nowhere. He recovered to help spring Ross Dickerson to a 100-yard kickoff return and also play some downs at running back in that 40-17 win 11 days ago. He got no carries, but that could come Saturday at the Los Angeles Coliseum. This week he is poised for serious playing time at running back as UH visits fourth-ranked Southern California.

The Warriors need all the blocking power they can muster, and the 6-foot-1, 260-pound Keliikipi is their best option in that regard at his position.

"The coaches told me be ready," Keliikipi said yesterday after practice. "I just got to watch my blocking schemes, pick up the blitzing linebackers."

Keliikipi, a Waianae alumnus, was an all-state running back, along with another West, John West from Leilehua, who is now his teammate at UH. But Keliikipi, who weighted 220 pounds as a Searider, didn't do much right after high school except begin to gain weight.

He tried out for the Warriors in the spring of 2000, but the dedication wasn't there. Keliikipi said the main reason he didn't stick around had to do with tuition costs. But he might not have made it anyway.

"He said the coaches called him a flake that first time," his mother, Gloria, said. "That's part of the reason he's back now. He didn't want to be known as a flake. He's very dedicated."

"I guess I've matured," Keliikipi said. "I've got my priorities set and I'm focused. Focused on football and school. I didn't want to end up living on the street, being a bum. Just grew up a little more."

Actually, Keliikipi wasn't doing nothing. He was learning the welding and pipefitting trades from his father. He saved money; enough to take some classes at Leeward Community College and eventually enroll at Manoa this fall.

But until about a year ago, Keliikipi wasn't really thinking about playing football again. It's pretty hard for a running back to imagine himself back in the game when he weighs 320 pounds.

"When he first started working with me he was on the chubby side," the father said. "He started getting really overweight. But I had these videotapes of him when he was at Waianae. He started checking them out, and then he started working out. I think looking at those tapes got him motivated. He started working out seven days a week. I told him take it easy, the machines need a day off."

Keliikipi said his motivation was twofold: fear and desire.

"I just saw myself digging my own grave," he said. "And my passion was playing football and I wanted to get back to it."

UH coaches see a completely different player and person than the one they met in 2000.

"He reported in great shape this time," coach June Jones said. "He made the 220s (conditioning test). He's serious about it. I think he's been through all his ups and downs and he's more focused. Because of that we need a blocker when we throw the ball and he's been getting better and better every week."

Suan said Keliikipi is more than just a big body.

"He holds the unofficial record of how high he put a defensive back in the air with a block," Suan said. "He's also a pretty good runner. I was real surprised, but he's got great athletic posture, good explosiveness. A very solid player."

The NCAA decided recently that Keliikipi's athletic timeclock started in 2000. So on the football field he's not a 23-year-old freshman communications major, but a junior with two seasons to play.

It's a lot better than nothing, though, especially for a guy who came out of nowhere.

"We need a big back who can block," Jones said. "He's our best blocker."



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