HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL
PAUL HONDA / PHONDA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Michael Matamua and his mother, Jennifer, are going through the recruiting process together.
Eselu’s California dream comes at a cost
It was a moment of dread for tight end Savaii Eselu, who was a Cal Bear at heart for months.
Eselu (6-4, 250) gave Oregon an oral commitment on Nov. 15. However, the numbers began to work differently for coaches at Cal, coaches who had asked Eselu to be patient since last spring.
"Cal saw his junior-year footage and they liked what they saw," said Moanalua coach Arnold Martinez, who had sent out 25 DVDs to Pac-10 and East Coast schools.
Though Cal offered him a scholarship over the summer, it wasn't in writing. When Eselu visited Oregon in November, the brilliant Duck effect, complete with fabulous facilities, was in place.
"I think he got wowed by the Oregon trip. The facilities are phenomenal. Cal came in late with the offer, but they were honest. They basically verbalized an offer to him in the summer, but they never sent a letter," Martinez said.
That changed once Cal's needs at the position solidified. So, last weekend, the moment arrived. Eselu called Oregon coach Mike Bellotti to turn down the scholarship offer. The decision came shortly after Eselu's visit to Berkeley -- during the Cal-Stanford weekend -- and coach Jeff Tedford's home visit two weeks ago.
"He told me, 'That's the hardest thing I ever had to do,' " Martinez said.
Eselu is a 3.9 student.
"Tedford called (recently) to ask how Savaii's physics exam went. They didn't even talk about football," Martinez said. "He told Savaii that he's the kind of kid they want in their program."
Other factors weren't as big as the academic prowess of Cal. Even the fact that Oregon doesn't run an offense that includes tight ends and that Cal does wasn't a major ingredient. However, Eselu is the only high school tight end being recruited by the Bears, who have one more on the roster and another coming in from a junior college.
"From the time I knew I was gonna go to Cal, I was thinking of how I was gonna tell Oregon," Eselu said. "For a while it was a guilt thing because I sort of felt obligated to go to Oregon. But that's what the recruiting process is. It goes on all the time."
Eselu's family was pleased, especially since his older sister, Sanoe, resides in the area and will attend graduate school there.
"His parents did a fantastic job with him and his sister," Martinez said of Ray and Tammy Eselu. "I wish we had more kids like Savaii."
So, Eselu can breathe easier now, and letter-of-intent day is six weeks away. It could be a long six weeks.
"Coach Bellotti said he's still gonna try to recruit Savaii," Martinez said.
Stay tuned, because Eselu says Bellotti shouldn't even bother, saying "there's no sense already."
Aztecs ahead on Matamua:
Hawaii High School Players
» Kalani Aldrich, DE, Kamehameha-Hawaii to Washington
» Bryson Beirne, QB, Pac-Five to Arizona
» Savaii Eselu, TE, Moanalua to Oregon
» Kaneakua Friel, TE, Kamehameha to BYU
» Michael Matamua, OL, Kapolei to San Diego State
» Gary Nagy, DB, Kahuku to BYU
» Sione Tau, OL, Damien to Arizona
» Vaughn Meatoga, DL, Kamehameha to Hawaii
» Gabe Tuata, RB, Kealakehe to Hawaii
Other UH Commitments
» Ray Hisatake, DT, San Mateo (Calif.) College
» Leon Jackson, RB, Nebraska
» Chris Leatigaga, DE, Foothills (Calif.) College
» Kevin Konrath, LB, Brother Rice (Chicago)
» Erik Robinson, S, Navarro (Texas) JC
UH Notes: UH beefed up its defensive front for 2007 with pledges from JC transfers Leatigaga (6-5, 270) and Hisatake (6-4, 308). ... Leatigaga chose Hawaii over Portland State and Idaho and Hisatake picked UH over New Mexico and San Jose State. ... The Warriors will focus much of their remaining recruiting efforts on cornerbacks, but another intriguing prospect is DL Corey Reynolds (6-3, 250) of nationally-prominent Hoover (Ala.). Reynolds has made an oral commitment to Houston, but has made advances to UH and said he might change his mind. "It could happen. I like the location and the school and the opportunities on defense," Reynolds said of UH. The Warriors' policy is to not recruit players who are committed, so they are waiting for Reynolds to "de-commit." Reynolds said he wants to make sure he has a firm offer from UH.
Dave Reardon, Star-Bulletin
Kapolei offensive lineman Michael Matamua confirmed Thursday that he has given SDSU an oral commitment to play football.
The 6-foot-4, 290-pound senior has scholarship offers from Hawaii, UNLV and Utah, in addition to SDSU. He returned from the SDSU campus recently quite impressed.
"I really enjoyed the trip. The O-line coach offered early and they were calling consistently," said Matamua, who has a 3.0 grade-point average and is an NCAA Division I qualifier.
Still, Matamua is a "soft commit," meaning that he hasn't ruled out other schools. He will visit UNLV on Jan. 12 and Utah on Jan. 19. Hawaii, which is leaning on defensive recruits for a second year in a row, has not been in touch with Matamua for a while.
"They haven't called back. My mom keeps calling them to set up a visit, but they're always busy," Matamua said.
Jennifer Matamua has her preference.
"Moms always want their kids to stay home," she conceded.
Another local prospect, Scott Smith of Saint Louis, refuted a rumor that he was hot on the Aztecs.
"Who, me? I'm not gonna visit there," the 6-foot-7, 245-pound defensive end said Thursday.
Matamua said former island standouts Trask Iosefa (Punahou) and Whitley Fehoko (Farrington) were good hosts. "They're just cool," he said. "Trask is my best friend's cousin. It was cool hanging out with them."
Matamua said that he will visit other schools because he intends to keep his word. "That would be kind of dirty to tell them I'll go visit, then not show up," he said.
Smith and teammate Solomona Aigamaua have offers from identical universities: Arizona, Cal, Hawaii, Oregon, Oregon State, SDSU and Washington. Both are playing basketball for the Crusaders, which participated in the Iolani Classic.
Basketball is more than a pastime for Smith, who has All-State potential. He'll focus on football at the next level. Hawaii, he said, is still in the picture, though he has his preference of leagues.
"I wanna play in the Pac-10," he said, noting that a strong schedule for UH would've made a difference in his decision.
"I didn't really like Cal -- the people were nice, but I didn't like the environment. They're not out of it. The education at Cal, you can't beat it," he said. "I have plenty of family there in Arizona. I like the coaches, too."
Playing time could be a factor in Smith's decision. "Everybody's telling me I could play early (at Arizona and Cal). I could compete and play even if I went to Cal," he said.
He and Aigamaua consult each other regularly.
"I wouldn't mind going to the same school," Smith said.
Ram under the radar: More than most years, this was a season deep with quality pass catchers. The spectacular receivers, like Lofa Liilii and Miah Ostrowski, are in plain view of Division I recruiters.
Off the radar, though, are steady players like Alan Fonoti of Aiea, Shane Ahlo and Kuli'a Aiona of Saint Louis, Justin Saniatan of Kamehameha and Kyle Blair of Radford. The list seems to grow each season, perhaps because of the influx of run-and-shoot offenses around the state.
Blair, at 5-10, 170 pounds with 4.5 speed, a 3.4 grade-point average and 1,630 SAT score, could star at a small college or find a niche with the right D-I program. So far, St. Joseph (Ind.), Menlo, Lewis and Clark, and Western Oregon have shown interest.
He hasn't ruled out walking on at a D-I school like Hawaii or San Diego State. Spending time at Oregon State's camp last summer opened his eyes.
"I'd love to walk on there. I got to work with Coach (Mike) Riley personally," he said. There are former Radford players now at UNLV, but Blair isn't a fit there because the Rebels want bigger receivers, he said.
Hurricane watch: Kapolei seniors Aaron Santiago, Kamuela Foki and Justin Cossey are a few more Hurricanes who are looking to the next level. Santiago (5-10, 170), one of the speediest receivers in the state, saw his season cut short by an ankle injury, but Navy is still interested.
"(Navy assistant) Ken Niumatalolo said they're real interested in him," Kapolei coach Darren Hernandez said. "It would be neat to have him catch passes from a former teammate."
That would be Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada, who took over as starting quarterback for the Midshipmen this season.
Foki, a punishing hitter out of the secondary, has drawn attention from I-AA schools Portland State, Sacramento State and Idaho State.
"They want him at linebacker," Hernandez said of the 5-10, 200-pound safety. "A guy like Troy Polamalu opened doors for guys like him."
Cossey, a 6-foot, 210-pound lineman-turned-linebacker, did everything asked of him. As an offensive lineman last year, he impressed at a BYU combine.
"Brian Derby told me he was phenomenal," Hernandez said. "He won the O-lineman of the camp award."
This year, the 'Canes moved him to linebacker, and he broke Po'okela Ahmad's record by making 92 tackles. Idaho and Washington have expressed interest in Cossey, who is not yet a D-I qualifier.
An "old" 'Cane, Brad Padayao, has been diligently preparing for college again. Padayao left the Air Force Academy before the season began, but has been working out and is now up to 195 pounds on his 5-10 frame.
"I re-sent his video to different schools," Hernandez said of the quick option quarterback. Three offers are on the table from Rhode Island, Bucknell and Eastern Oregon.
Padayao's 3.9 GPA makes him an attractive recruit for schools.
Warriors want a Warrior: Rarely is there a cornerback with size, length, strength and speed out of the local high-school ranks.
That's why Hawaii is eager to rein in Kamehameha senior Brandon Hardin. Hawaii defensive backs coach Rich Miano offered Hardin a scholarship two weeks ago, the Warrior said.
"He said I'm the only DB from Hawaii that they're offering," Hardin said.
The 6-2 1/2, 185-pound corner doesn't have any other D-I offers. He is not in a rush, however, to make a decision.
Oregon State has shown interest. Boise State wants to bring him in on a package deal that would allow him to pay in-state tuition.
Hardin, who had six interceptions against a top-flight schedule, attended camps at Oregon State and Stanford last summer. He also participated in the PIAA combine last May at Saint Louis.
"Oregon State came on strong after that," said Hardin, who was 5-10 as a sophomore. "Colorado was talking with me for a while, but they gave away their scholarships."
Tall, fast cornerbacks who can hit are a highly prized commodity. Hardin's growth in the past year has put him on the radar, and as LOI day approaches in February, his phone may start ringing much more.
"It's going slower than I expected," he admitted. "But I'm happy with what I've got now."
The breaks: Leilehua defensive end Viliami Haunga (6-4, 235) suffered a broken wrist during the HUB Goodwill Senior Bowl, but is still scheduled to visit Oregon State in a few weeks. Haunga, an anchor on one of the OIA's top defensive units, is missing basketball season due to the injury.
Coach Nolan Tokuda also noted that quarterback Bryant Moniz (6-1, 180) has offers from three small colleges, including Montana State, where Tommy Lee is coach. A number of other schools, including D-I universities, want Moniz as a defensive back.
He passed for 1,662 yards and 20 touchdowns with just seven interceptions this season.
Leilehua's versatile running back, Micah Abreu-Laybon, hopes to become a college qualifier soon. "He'll go and walk on wherever Moniz ends up," Tokuda said.
In 11 games, Abreu-Laybon ran for 926 yards and six touchdowns, and caught 34 passes for 405 yards and three more scores.