Fan favorite Klaneski left it all on the field


POSTED: Sunday, June 21, 2009

From 1994 to 1997, Eddie Klaneski did not capture many victories on the scoreboard. His Rainbow football teams went a combined 12-47.

However, for four years on the Halawa turf, No. 21 made a career of capturing the hearts of Hawaii football fans.

I was definitely one of them.

I watched football games from the “;reds”; MM section from the age of 1, and Eddie is my all-time favorite player to sport the green and white. I can still remember the torn jerseys, the blood dripping from his chin and elbows. I swear, he must have led the conference in Band-Aid usage.

He played slotback, safety, and return man while also playing the role of the ultimate underdog.

He entered the program as a 165-pound, 17-year-old “;athlete”; out of Damien and left as the single-game tackles leader with 23 against Fresno State in 1996, a record that still stands.

In the final game of his career, playing in the all green uni against storied Notre Dame, he put together an effort that my KITV colleague Robert Kekaula says “;single-handedly almost beat the Irish.”;

With amazing tackles, and setting up touchdowns with game-changing punt returns, he left it all out on the field with his one final moment of David looking Goliath right in the eye and saying “;bring it.”;

But his greatness came before he ever played a single game under the lights returning kicks, snagging picks, and layin' the licks.

It came when he was getting lickings himself on the scout team.

As a true freshman, he took every single snap of the fall scrimmage as a slotback, punt returner and kickoff returner.

Coach Bob Wagner called it “;one of the best performances ever by a UH football player in the 19 years I was there. And basically it was only watched by his teammates and I.”;

In true Eddie fashion, the laid back local boy just laughed it off when I told him of what Coach Wags said.

“;it was all just about being crazy. The older guys kept telling me to calm down. But really, it was just a chance to play ball. I play the same way every time I'm on the field.”;

And that's what fans appreciated about him.

I can remember taking the drive home from Aiea to Kailua, with my father red in the face frustrated following yet another Hawaii loss, only to be rebutted by his son sporting a smile from ear to ear saying “;Dad, just smile! You got to watch Klaneski play. Plus, it could have been worse if Eddie didn't make that touchdown-saving tackle.”;

See, Eddie made many touchdown-saving tackles. As the last line of defense on a team that gave up an average of 8-zillion yards rushing a game in 1998, he was known for making saves, and taking away scoring opportunities.

More than 10 years after the end of his UH career, Eddie has retired from the taking away game and is all about giving.

Now coaching at his alma mater, Damien, and playing a big role in the offseason developmental camp scene, he still remembers those torturously hot two-a-days at Barbers Point as a self-proclaimed “;scout team crazy man”;.

“;That was a great experience,”; he said. “;It was hot, it was half dirt, half grass. But it builds a little toughness in your brain. You just sit in some ice and go back out there in the afternoon.”;

Today, that's what he preaches to his players.

“;You don't have to be the most talented, you don't have to have the height and weight,”; he said. “;But you have to want it more than everybody else. You have to just go out and play, win or lose, you gotta just play and just smile.”;

I find it funny that “;Coach Klaneski”; is telling his players to “;just smile.”;

When 12 years ago it was the “;Player Klaneski”; that had a hanabadda-nosed 14-year-old punk telling his father to do the same on a 17-mile trek back to Kailua—for the simple reason of having had the chance to watch him play.


Rob DeMello is a sports reporter and weekend anchor at KITV, and host of the Rob and Russ show on AM-1500 and on RobAndRuss.com. We reveal five more UH greats tomorrow.