HAWAII GROWN REPORT
COURTESY MICHAEL JOHNSON
Former Kamehameha standout Kolo Kapanui may reach the NFL after a stop at USC, a junior college, two years away from the game and two seasons at D-II West Texas A&M.
Kolo adjusted his route
Kolo Kapanui hopes to prove missing your chances at the big time doesn't mean you can't make it to the NFL.
The tight end from Kamehameha had his chances at conventional routes to the pros, first by going to USC in the same freshman class as Matt Leinart, then again two years later when big-name schools recruited him from junior college.
But Kapanui's path took him to West Texas A&M, a small Division II school where his football career was resurrected. Now Kapanui expects to be drafted by an NFL team this weekend as one of the best available tight ends coming out of the college ranks.
Speculation is that Kapanui could go in the sixth or seventh round on Sunday. Pass-catching tight ends are again all the rage, and the 6-foot-3, 270-pound Kapanui fits into that category.
"Not only tight ends," said Wynn Silberman, Kapanui's agent. "But tight ends who can play in the slot, a role that was kind of pioneered by Tony Gonzalez.
"What we're pushing as (Kapanui's) representatives is his athleticism. He had over 40 catches last year and a lot of them were coming out of the slot."
Gonzalez's team, the Kansas City Chiefs, and the Cleveland Browns and Arizona Cardinals have all worked out Kapanui personally, and he was at the NFL Combine.
Kapanui said he patterns himself after Gonzalez not just as a player.
"From what I hear, he's a great guy," Kapanui said. "You never hear about problems with him. And the way the NFL is now, that's a big deal, being a good all-around guy, not just a great player. If you're a good player and a crazy dude off the field you might not make it."
COURTESY MICHAEL JOHNSON
Kolo Kapanui was influenced by his grandparents, John and Elizabeth Kong Kee, to return to school.
Kapanui was never really a wild man, but he admits his lack of diligence in school cost him earlier opportunities. For the NFL decision makers, that negative may be outweighed by Kapanui's successful return to college football after two years away. He turns 25 in November -- again, a possible positive or negative, since some teams will consider him too old, others will perceive him as mature.
He was 17 when he reported to USC in 2001.
"I went there with high expectations. When I showed up in the summer, I was starting on special teams. Then I did something to my hip and couldn't practice," Kapanui said. "I got down on myself and went into myself. I had all these feelings like I let my family down."
His schoolwork suffered, and then-USC offensive coordinator Norm Chow suggested Kapanui go to El Camino Junior College. Things went well there -- on the football field. The big-time recruiters came calling again, but stopped when they learned Kapanui wasn't on track for an associate's degree.
"I slacked too much and no school would take me," Kapanui said. "West Texas A&M was calling, but my attitude was I'm going to Florida or something. Division I or none."
Kapanui went to work as a bouncer and security guard in Los Angeles for a year. Then home to Palolo and a construction job for another.
"At the end of 2005, my grandparents (John and Elizabeth Kong Kee) sat me down and said they think I should go back to school, and that they would help me," Kapanui said. "I called the West Texas coach (Don Carthel) and asked if the offer was still on the table. He asked me to come out for a visit. I said if the offer's still good two years later, I'll just come."
It was an adjustment for him.
"It's a small town, but I made the best of it. If another Hawaii player ever dares to go there, just remember it's in the middle of nowhere. It's on the outskirts of Amarillo. That's the big city if you want to call it that. There's definitely no distractions. It's a real nice school, and the people love football. It's Texas."
They love it so much that the Buffs drew 23,276 fans to a home game last year, nearly twice the population of Canyon, Texas, where the school is located.
West Texas A&M went 12-0 in the regular season last year before losing its first playoff game.
"We were one of the best teams in Division II," Kapanui said.
He remained healthy in 2007 after missing several games the previous season.
"I'm very fortunate because I've had no surgery," Kapanui said. "Just a sprained ankle or strained groin here and there."
The NFL confirmed that at the combine.
"You go through this panel of doctors and they poke you and pull you, and you go through that about six or seven times," he said. "That was definitely an experience, especially coming from a small school, being with the top players from the big schools. We were all making fun of it, calling it the meat market."