HAWAII GROWN REPORT
OHIO STATE UNIVERSITY
Steven Nozaki credits Ryan Kohatsu, who also graduated from Waiakea, for steering him towards shooting and Ohio State.
Shooting to the top
Steven Nozaki of Waiakea has found success on the Ohio State rifle team
COLUMBUS, Ohio » The field was flooded with thousands of students in the moments after Ohio State's huge football win over Michigan last Saturday.
Among those students on the field was Big Island native Steven Nozaki.
The 2005 Waiakea High School graduate was just another happy Buckeye that night, more than 4,000 miles away from his roots in Hilo.
The sophomore, one of the top shooters on OSU's rifle team, grew up listening to an old family friend, Ed Kawachika, talk about his days at OSU back in the 1950s. Kawachika was a swimmer at OSU 50 years ago, then returned to Hawaii to teach (at Hilo and Waiakea high schools).
Nozaki also had Ryan Kohatsu to look up to.
Kohatsu attended Ohio State as a student-athlete after graduating from Waiakea in 2001. Nozaki was a freshman at Waiakea in 2002 and heard the stories about how good Kohatsu had been. Nozaki asked Kohatsu lots of questions about the sport and about college.
"He had many questions on how to get better in his shooting while he was in high school," Kohatsu said via e-mail. "I was excited to know someone else from the islands would attend Ohio State and shoot as well.
"Having someone else from the same high school was also exciting as I feel it is a testament to the high school coaching we had from Kean Umeda and Alan Parker."
AFTER HELPING HIS school win the 2005 state air riflery championship, Nozaki followed Kohatsu to central Ohio.
"He's kind of a role model for me, he set the standard," Nozaki said. "He went to the same high school. It was a real help having someone who was going through the same things. We could be homesick together."
The two Big Island natives had the opportunity to be Buckeye teammates for one season, sharing a life so far away from the sun and surf of Hawaii.
"He was an accomplished shooter and I have a lot to live up to," Nozaki said.
Kohatsu is back in Hawaii after his collegiate career, and the torch has been passed to Nozaki.
"He's proven to be one of our top smallbore (.22) shooters," OSU rifle coach Patrick Cherry said.
That's quite an improvement for someone who didn't shoot competitively at all until high school and didn't use a .22 until college.
"I was looking for a high school sport," Nozaki said. "I couldn't do anything else. I got cut from the baseball team."
HE SAID SOME friends encouraged him to try shooting, so he joined Waiakea's air riflery team as a freshman.
"His freshman year he was the last person to make the team, the last person to make it to states," Steven's dad, Sid Nozaki said. "He said he was going to be state champion (someday)."
OHIO STATE UNIVERSITY
Steven Nozaki says he misses the local lifestyle and local food.
» OSU competes in the Western Intercollegiate Rifle Conference (WIRC), with eight other schools. The conference championships are in March.
» OSU finished its fall portion of the schedule with a 2-3 record, after beating Morehead State 4,469-4,415 on Sunday. Nozaki had the top team aggregate of 1,111 (546 smallbore and 565 air rifle). He has had the top team aggregate in all five matches, with a high of 1,122.
» The Buckeyes are off until they compete against the U.S. Military Academy on Jan. 20.
» OSU finished third last season in the WIRC championships, with Nozaki placing 10th individually in air rifle and smallbore. OSU did not qualify for the NCAAs.
Sure enough, Nozaki led his team to the state title his senior season.
"Anybody can do it if they want it bad enough," Nozaki said. "You just have to have the willingness to try."
Participating in collegiate riflery doesn't come with the benefits of an athletic scholarship, which makes Nozaki's commitment even more impressive.
"He's paying top dollar to come here and be one of our athletes," Cherry said.
"He has a lot of mental skills. He cares and works toward self-improvement. That's the big thing: He wants to do it.
"He drives himself to do it. It's the same thing with academics."
Nozaki said that college life in Ohio has forced him to make his share of adjustments.
"We use different equipment (shooting). There are the demands of balancing school and work and practice," Nozaki said. "In high school, everything seemed so much more manageable."
HE DOES HAVE the help of a coach who has been around for a long time.
"(Cherry) is a very established figure at Ohio State," Nozaki said. "I look to him for resources for shooting and also outside of athletics, figuring out college life. He's seen it all, other out-of-state kids.
"It's nice to have someone there."
Sid Nozaki is glad for what his son has been able to do.
"It's a great experience for kids to get away," the senior Nozaki said.
Kohatsu felt the same way.
"There is a bigger world out there than Hawaii, and I believe (Hawaii high schoolers) should see it when given the chance," he said via e-mail. "I can say I appreciate Hawaii a lot more after seeing what else is out there and seeing how special we have it here."
One of the experiences Steven isn't real thrilled about is the Midwestern winters.
"The cold is something I'll never get used to," he said. "I miss the warm weather, the people, the local lifestyle and local food -- the small things you take for granted.
"You forget how good you have it at home."
Nozaki said he calls his parents -- Sid and Sue, both teachers at Big Island high schools -- once or twice a week to catch up, and he considers them his role models.
"I look up to them as good examples," Nozaki said. "If I can be half the person they are I'd consider myself a success. I owe them a lot."
Nozaki has a younger brother, Scott, who shoots for the Warriors and will graduate from Waiakea this spring.
Nozaki said he isn't sure what his brother's plans are, or if he'll pursue collegiate athletics, but if Scott does find himself at Ohio State, perhaps Steven can show him, among other things, what celebrating a football win with 105,000 fans is all about.