CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Mana Lolotai wants to fulfill the high expectations he had for himself coming out of high school.
Lolotai determined to make impact
For Mana Lolotai, the hope to rekindle past glory is getting stronger every day.
With starter Blaze Soares out six to eight weeks with a calf injury and Adam Leonard missing a few days of practice, the entire linebacker corps has seen its share of reps increase.
Lolotai has been one of the biggest beneficiaries, using his first real opportunity to show the skills that made him one of the most feared defensive players in the state while at Kamehameha. He's been practicing at middle linebacker with the second team in most drills for the last week.
"It feels good to finally get some rotations in," said the 6-foot, 220-pound sophomore. "Last year I was No. 5 out of five middle linebackers and didn't get much work at my position."
Lolotai saw time on special teams last year, but is on a mission to make his mark as a linebacker at the collegiate level.
He had high expectations coming out of Kamehameha in 2006, where he teamed with Gerritt Vincent to create one of the state's most devastating linebacker duos.
He originally committed to play with the other dozen local kids at Oregon State, but academic issues prevented Lolotai from making it to Corvallis, Ore.
"The whole thing with my qualifications to get myself in with my grades, I'm just trying to get back on track," Lolotai said. "It's been an experience for me just to try to get back into the game."
"I know there's a lot of doubters out there saying that I got married and I'm done. I'm kind of trying to show them up."
Those issues may turn out to be a blessing for Hawaii. With Lolotai forced to stay home and attend Hawaii Pacific for a year, his path back to the football field runs through Manoa, where he's intent on proving to himself -- and others -- he can live up to the potential he showed in high school.
"Nobody has seen me play my position since my senior year (of high school), so for me, I kind of have to prove to myself I can still play my position," said Lolotai, who added "I know there's a lot of doubters out there saying that I got married and I'm done. I'm kind of trying to show them up."
It's been three years since Lolotai has seen significant playing time at linebacker in a game, his first break since stepping on a football field the first time as a kid. His success in high school filled his mind with thoughts of being a star in college, but the last couple of years have grounded him, and made him realize the importance of working hard every day to hopefully fulfill those high school dreams.
"College is like you're playing with a bunch of all-stars and you've got to rise above that," he said. "Last year was kind of a learning experience for me. I can't just come in and expect to play the position. I have to work for it."
He's put in the work over the last six months, and is beginning to see the fruits of his labor. In shape and feeling the best he's felt in a while, Lolotai is now focused on fine-tuning all the details it takes to be a great player.
"I'm comfortable now, but I still have a lot to learn," he said. "I'm working real hard on my footwork and my reads and just doing well when I'm in there getting reps."