Friday, October 23, 1998
find their field
The football team atBy Kalani Simpson
Dana College in Nebraska has a
distinct Hawaii flavor
Special to the Star-Bulletin
BLAIR, Neb. -- The football team at Dana College is different from most in Nebraska and the mainland's upper Great Plains.
"Every time we play against Dana," Peru State coach Dick Strittmatter said, "somebody puts corn plants up on the goal posts."
Uh, those are ti leaves, coach.
With an infusion of seven freshmen from Hawaii this fall, Dana College, which has eight players, a student equipment manager and an assistant coach from the 50th state, has a distinct island flavor.
During a preseason practice, there was a moment of confusion when one of the defensive players began calling out signals that the team didn't have.
"What," assistant coach Craig Stern asked, "is tree?"
"Tree, coach, Tree! Afta two!"
While lining up for an onside kick, the Vikings' special teamers survey the return team's defense and yell, "Where's the puka?! Where's the puka?!"
On campus at the small midwest liberal arts school, blond-haired Nebraska farm boys can be spotted wearing lava-lavas.
Tommy Cox, a 300-pound sophomore offensive tackle from Lihue (Kauai High) was joined on the Dana team this season by Mike Rubio of Kapaa, Chad Irei of Honolulu (Farrington), David Abbott and Shawn Galbreath of Kailua (Kalaheo), Damien Silva of Hilo, Lennie Morante of Pahoa and Brody Tinao of Kealakekua (Konawaena). They have made an immediate impact -- on and off the field.
"This is an excellent group of young men, which really added to the strength of our team," Dana coach Jim Krueger said. "I see some of these guys becoming some of the best players in the league."
They have set up Dana's first Hawaii Club, playing ukulele, "grinding" and attracting mainland students as members. They already have a new auntie -- Kahuku native Nel Fuhlrodt is a cook in the Dana cafeteria, dispensing rice, hugs and scoldings as needed.
"These are my boys," Fuhlrodt said. "My mother says, 'You not homesick anymore, are you?' "
Since marrying a Nebraskan, Fuhlrodt has lived on the mainland for 22 years and has not been home in 20. But she sees that the Dana menu includes at least one Hawaiian-style meal a week. "I make sure they no miss home too much," she said.
The food and the language at Dana are different, obviously, but the biggest shock for the players from Hawaii was the first cold day.
"The day before that it was pretty warm out," Galbreath recalled. "So I went out in shorts, slippers, whatever, and I was just like, Ooh! I went back and told my roommate, 'Don't even go outside today, it's cold.' "
"The first thing I did was throw on two pairs of socks," Silva said. "Everybody was talking about how this is perfect weather to play football."
Irei bundles up in his sideline cape when not on the field during games, earning the nickname "The Human Warmth."
Teammates never tire of telling them how much worse it will get.
"Last year, it got down to 60 and I thought that was pretty cold," said Cox, the only Hawaii player on the team in 1997.
Now, with a winter under his belt, he laughs along with the mainland kids at the reaction to the drop in temperature.
"Last year," he said, "wasn't too funny."
The new experiences have been "Unbelievable," said Tinao, who had 11 tackles and a fumble recovery that led to a touchdown earlier this season against Hastings (Neb.) College, which was ranked No. 4 in NAIA Division II. "I'm loving it."
Cox, who has been in the offensive line rotation all season, started midway though the season against Dakota State and was playing well when he injured his shoulder against Midland (Neb.) Lutheran on Saturday.
Tinao has impressed coaches with his quick burst on defense. He mostly plays free safety, and despite being only 165 pounds, has seen action at weakside linebacker in passing situations.
"Brody, all the upperclassmen on defense like him because he can hit," Silva said of his ex-Big Island opponent. "He can bring the thunder."
The Hawaii players see frequent action on special teams, and coaches indicate all are in shape to see more playing time down the road.
Kale Maguire, a sophomore from Leilehua, is the team's equipment manager. Jim Simpson of Waiohinu on the Big Island, the former coach at Kohala and Ka'u, is Dana's special teams and running backs coach. Tinao's elementary teacher at Hookena, Simpson has coached at Dana since retiring as a teacher four years ago, flying home when the season ends each winter.
All said, football is what brought them to the mainland.
"Playing time," Rubio said.
Irei agreed: "This is the only place that offered me a scholarship."