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Saturday, February 12, 2005



PRO BOWL


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CRAIG KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Chicago Bears center Olin Kreutz, a former Saint Louis School and University of Washington standout, earned his fourth Pro Bowl selection this season.


Flying under the radar

Hawaii’s Olin Kreutz doesn’t
seek out the spotlight that
continues shining on him

While most of his NFC teammates have fled the blazing noonday sun, Olin Kreutz inches his way along the Aloha Stadium grandstand, putting his signature on every hat, program and replica helmet thrust in front of his face.

Some of his fellow Pro Bowlers have already emerged from the cool of the locker room, freshly showered and primed for an afternoon of island leisure, by the time Kreutz signs his last autograph.

"These are mostly local people -- they came and stood in the sun and they want a few autographs, and being from Hawaii I try to do as much as I can," the Chicago Bears center says as he finally leaves the field following the post-practice ritual.

Before reaching shade, the Saint Louis School graduate makes several stops to oblige reporters seeking a quote or a sound bite.

It's the kind of adulation befitting a player who's appeared in more Pro Bowls than any other Hawaii product.

It's the kind of attention Kreutz usually tries to sidestep, preferring to keep the spotlight trained on the sport's glamour boys.

"I think a lot of local people are like that," Kreutz said of his tendency to stay low-key. "A lot of local people are just laid-back and don't need all the attention and just go to work. That's the way I was brought up and that's the way I am.

"I wouldn't say I don't like (doing interviews), but to me sometimes when you fly under the radar you do a little better."

Though he does his best to maintain a low profile, Kreutz's play certainly hasn't gone unnoticed by his peers, who have helped vote him to four Pro Bowls -- moving him to the top of an exclusive list of local athletes who have played in the NFL's all-star game.

But if his accomplishment has gone largely unnoticed by others, Kreutz isn't keeping track either.

"You don't look at things while you're playing, but at the end of my career it'll be a special thing if that's true," he said. "But I don't really think about it."


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CRAIG KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Olin Kreutz obliged his hometown fans by signing autographs long after Thursday's NFC practice at Aloha Stadium.


Over seven NFL seasons, Kreutz has established himself as one of the game's top centers and among the best players the state has produced. He'll make his third appearance in the Pro Bowl tomorrow afternoon at Aloha Stadium.

"He's definitely one of the guys I love to watch," said Minnesota's Matt Birk, the NFC's backup center. "I love the way he plays; he's one of the best in the game and I always feel I can learn things by watching him.

"I'd never met him before, so this was actually a thrill for me that we were here at the same time and just get to talk to him and hang out a little more."

An alternate twice early in his career, Kreutz started the 2002 and 2003 Pro Bowls. He was picked to start again last year, but withdrew due to a sprained ankle. It was one of the few times Kreutz has missed a kickoff in his career, as he's started 62 of the Bears' last 63 regular-season games.

Kreutz's selection to this year's game caps an otherwise trying season in Chicago, as the Bears went 5-11 and finished last in the league in total offense with 238.5 yards per game.

"Football is a team sport and we all had a bad year," said Kreutz, the Bears' lone representative. "I appreciate the respect my peers and the coaches have for me, but I'm not going to say 'I had a good year while everybody else had a bad year.' I'm not going to separate myself from the team like that."

Despite the Bears' struggles, Kreutz finds himself back in the game at a position that lends itself to anonymity. But those who line up against him are well aware of the 6-foot-2 292-pounder's skills and can testify to what makes him one of the game's top blockers.

"His quickness and tenacity," Detroit defensive tackle Shaun Rogers listed. "He's going to play every snap, he knows what he's doing and he knows where he's supposed to be. But most definitely his quickness allows him do things on the field that other linemen can't do."

"A lot of mean streak," Dallas' La'Roi Glover added. "He's not the biggest guy, but he makes up for it with heart and effort and intensity. It's a beautiful combination."


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CRAIG KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Olin Kreutz was selected to the Pro Bowl last season but did not play due to an ankle injury.


KREUTZ'S CLIMB BEGAN in Aina Haina and has been a family affair from the start. He points to his mother, Laura Perry, as one of his biggest role models growing up and credits his father, Henry Kreutz, and grandfather, George Perry, for inspiring him to develop a powerful physique that helped him earn All-State honors at Saint Louis.

Cal Lee, who coached Kreutz as a Crusader, said you can never predict a high school player making it to the NFL, much less the Pro Bowl. But he knew Kreutz had some of the right attributes.

"You can tell that a guy's a hard worker. He had that great passion for the game, a competitor no matter what it is," Lee said. "You've got to be nasty sometimes, and he had that. It's not pingpong. You could also see he had the intelligence."

A recruiting battle ended with Kreutz accepting a scholarship to Washington, where he was a two-time All-Pac-10 pick with the Huskies.

Adjusting to life in Seattle was a sometimes agonizing experience, and he can relate to the local athletes who just completed the recruiting process earlier this month.

"It's a tough decision for kids to make," he said. "You're only 17 years old, but you're making a decision that impacts your whole life, and at that point you don't realize that.

"It's a different lifestyle -- the people are different, they're a little more fast-paced. It's a hard thing to get used to at first. I know I wanted to quit and come home, but my family stood behind me and told me to stay, especially my mom, so I stayed."

He closed his college career at Aloha Stadium by playing in Washington's 51-23 win over Michigan State in the 1997 Aloha Bowl. He entered the NFL Draft following his junior season and the Bears made him their third-round pick in 1998. He's signed with the team through the 2007 season.

"In the NFL you're never set. ... but I'm pretty comfortable with my situation," he said. "But they can get rid of me at any time. I know that and everybody knows that who plays this sport. You're never set and every year is a new year."

THOUGH HE APPRECIATES the honor of another Pro Bowl selection, Kreutz's true joy these days is a blossoming family.

His wife, Wendi, is a Sacred Hearts graduate. They were high-school sweethearts and now have two sons -- Joshua turns 2 next month and James is 6 months old.

The family lives in Chicago most of the year, but calls Kalama Valley home from January to April.

While most of the Pro Bowl players tour the island or lounge in the luxurious accommodations at the Ihilani resort on Oahu's west side, Kreutz is content to kick back at home, maybe hit the links a few times.

Although he makes his living in the Midwest, Hawaii remains home.

"The local people always treat me good," Kreutz said. "This is where I'm from, this is where my family's from and this is where I like to be."


Hawaii's Pro Bowlers

Name (Hawaii connection) Pos. NFL Team Selections Years
Charley Ane (Punahou) T Detroit 2 1957, 59
Jason Elam (UH) K Denver 3 1996, 99, 2002
Russ Francis (Kailua) TE New England 3 1977, 78, 79*
Rockne Freitas (Kamehameha) T Detroit 1 1973*
Roy Gerela (Kalani) K Pittsburgh 2 1973, 75
Olin Kreutz (Saint Louis) C Chicago 4 2002, 03, 04*, 05
Jesse Sapolu (Farrington/UH) C San Francisco 2 1994, 95
Mosi Tatupu (Punahou) ST New England 1 1987
Mark Tuinei (Punahou/UH) T Dallas 2 1995, 96

*selected but did not play

SOURCE: NFL



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