Asato built—and rebuilt—UH football


POSTED: Saturday, June 20, 2009

He's 81, and only a few remain who remember the fast and fearless left halfback with boulders where most people have calf muscles.

Around the end of World War II, a teen-aged Jimmy Asato moved from Haleiwa to live with his sister, Lily, in town, and he played for Bill Wise at McKinley his senior year. “;I recruited myself,”; he says.

Then he worked for two years to get enough money together for college.

“;It cost a lot, no room and board like today. Without my sister's help I couldn't have gone to school.”;

Asato played at UH from 1948 to 1951. Coach Tommy Kaulukukui saw a bit of his former self and promoted the freshman to the varsity midway through the season.

The four-year starter broke off long runs on a regular basis (often sprung by a Dick Carpenter block). He was two-time MVP, the greatest Rainbow of his time.

“;So quick, great change of direction,”; says Star-Bulletin columnist Ben Wood. “;Tough. He'd get all beat up but keep going.”;

Running back is rough on the body now, but think about it with the limited protective gear of the 1940s. Asato doesn't have to imagine.

“;Maybe I got laid out for a game or two,”; he says. “;I didn't wear a facemask. Then, Stanford game, broke my nose.”;

Didn't wear one until it was forced on him.

If he had played these days, there would've been some kind of pro football opportunity. But not back then, so Asato went to work at UH as a physical education teacher.

IN A CRISIS, you call on your most dependable soldiers. So in 1962, Asato was tasked with reviving football at UH. It had been shut down a year due to funding and suspicions of players not taking enough classes. Not exactly a dream job.

“;I was working at UH. So when they told me to coach, I coach.”;

Asato started from scratch with scant resources.

“;I enjoyed it, probably because of the type of kids we got. Not the so-called recruited type of players. They just wanted to play, and we picked them up.”;

Buzzy Hong, Bobby Au, John Carroll, Larry Price—a bunch of hard-nosed guys who just wanted to play.

“;He was a quiet, confident guy as a coach,”; says Bob Lundy, one of his players. “;But he had no problem getting in your face if you (messed) something up.

“;We had a lot of good players, but it was a dark age of UH football. Our facilities were terrible and there was no money. To be a coach was strictly a labor of love.”;

About the same number of people populated the Honolulu Stadium stands as the field for games; prep rivalries were much more popular. But Asato and others kept it afloat. After three years, he returned to the P.E. department, ended up running it.

RETIRED 20 YEARS, he lives alone now after the recent passing of his wife, Agnes. He says he's in good health, with the recent concession of walking for exercise instead of jogging. “;I've been active all my life.”;

The same complaints about facilities and money exist, but on a much different scale. Asato marvels at what UH football—which he dug out of its grave—has grown into.

“;It has progressed tremendously. And I'm very happy to see that. It's gone one step further.

“;I've still got my season tickets. I love football, no matter what.”;

Dave Reardon is the Star-Bulletin's sports columnist. We reveal five more UH football greats tomorrow. See starbulletin.com for more on “;The Centurions.”;