HAWAII GROWN REPORT
Area seniors get last chance to play at Aloha Stadium
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Six University of Hawaii football players competing in tomorrow's Cornerstone Bancard Hula Bowl at Aloha Stadium will have to share the spotlight with some of Hawaii's other local talent.
Five players who graduated from local high schools and went to mainland colleges will also appear, headlined by Butkus Award finalist Jordon Dizon (Waimea '04) of Colorado, a first-team All-American at linebacker.
"I had a chance to come home and play with the best, and that's what football is about," Dizon said.
Arizona State lineman Brandon Rodd (Aiea '03), Portland State's Brennen Carvalho (Kamehameha '04) and West Texas A&M tight end Kolomona Kapanui (Kamehameha '01) will join Dizon on the West squad. Tennessee defensive tackle J.T. Mapu (Kahuku '02) will lead the East.
The game begins at 1 p.m. and will be broadcast on VS.
CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
J.T. Mapu, a 2002 graduate of Kahuku, started four games at defensive tackle for Tennessee this season. He will represent Hawaii-grown athletes for the East in tomorrow's Hula Bowl. Four others will suit up for the West.
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J.T. Mapu committed to Tennessee believing he would never step foot inside Aloha Stadium again.
"I didn't think I'd ever play here," the '02 Kahuku graduate said. "I always thought about if I would ever be invited to play in the Hula Bowl. I feel blessed to be able to do so."
Mapu, who started four games at defensive tackle for the Volunteers this season, is one of five local high school graduates returning home for one final game.
He'll be the only local representative on the East squad when they face the West in the Cornerstone Bancard Hula Bowl tomorrow at 1 p.m.
Many local standouts go away to the mainland for college, but they generally stay near the West Coast. Mapu's trip took him more than 4,300 miles east to Knoxville and the Southeastern Conference.
"From Hawaii to California is a far way from home anyway," Mapu said. "What's a couple more hours?"
Mapu finished with 22 tackles his senior year, but struggled to earn consistent playing time.
Tennessee finished 10-4 and capped the season with a victory over Wisconsin in the Outback Bowl in a game Mapu started.
The Volunteers had a chance at a BCS bowl berth, but lost to national champion LSU in the SEC title game. The Tigers went home with the trophy, but folks in Southern California and Georgia have also been making cases for why their teams should be national champs.
The Volunteers whipped the Bulldogs 35-14 early in the season, but Mapu shied away from saying who he thought is the best team in the country.
"I couldn't even say. That's why we play the games," Mapu said. "I wouldn't want to predict anything. (LSU and Georgia) are great teams. Whoever executes the best that day would come out on top."
A playoff is the popular choice among fans and sportswriters alike, but Arizona State's Brandon Rodd (Aiea '03), who will suit up for the West squad, wasn't quite as excited about the idea.
"That's way too many games to play," he said. "I think if you win all your games you deserve to be there. If you don't beat everyone then you don't."
Rodd's return to Hawaii comes under much different circumstances than just over a year ago when the Sun Devils got blitzed by the Warriors in the Hawaii Bowl 41-24.
Arizona State was going through a coaching change, and the fallout from Dirk Koetter's termination was evident on the field.
"Coaches got fired and it was take a vacation, let's go have fun," Rodd said. "This year there's a whole lot more on the line. It's a business trip."
Dennis Erickson resurrected the program to a 10-3 record and a berth in the Holiday Bowl this season. Oddly enough, Hawaii likely kept the Sun Devils from a BCS bowl berth. Had the Warriors lost to either Boise State or Washington in their final two games, the Sun Devils were likely next in line for a spot in the BCS.
"Like I said, it comes down to us just taking care of business," Rodd said. "If we beat USC and Oregon, we would have made it. (Erickson) has come in and brought a whole different dimension to the program and I think his success will continue."
Things are also looking up at Colorado, where linebacker Jordon Dizon (Waimea '04) leaves behind a program that has finally turned the corner from a sex scandal in '04.
Despite the allegations from a female ex-kicker on the team who said she was raped by members of the football team, Dizon didn't waver in his commitment to Colorado. After struggling through tough seasons and a coaching change, Dizon finally shared in some success his senior year for a team that earned a spot in the Independence Bowl.
"I would put (Colorado) like a stock in the stock market," Dizon said. "There's been ups and downs, but in the end it's going up. A bunch of recruits dropped out on us (from the scandal), but we're finally getting some good classes in.
Dizon will play for the West squad in the Hula Bowl before heading to Mobile, Ala., for the Senior Bowl on Jan. 26.
He leaves Colorado as one of the most decorated athletes in recent school history. He played in all 49 games in his four years and recorded 450 tackles -- including 170 this season. Not bad for a kid who played running back in high school.
"If you're a five-star recruit coming out of high school, maybe you expect that, but I was barely recruited," Dizon said. "I was a running back my whole career and I ended as a (finalist) for the Butkus (Award) as a linebacker. When it's unexpected, it makes it that much better."
Joining Dizon and Rodd on the West squad are West Texas A&M tight end Kolomona Kapanui (Kamehameha '01) and Portland State offensive lineman Brennen Carvalho (Kamehameha '04).