Kafentzis legacy began with Mark in '79


POSTED: Thursday, June 25, 2009

Every so often, someone with island ties might pass through the town of Buckley, Wash., (population 4,000) and notice the name on the office door.

Then comes the inevitable, “;Didn't you play football for Hawaii?”; conversation.

“;It's pretty amazing how many people remember us,”; said Mark Kafentzis, now a financial advisor with the town's Edward Jones branch.

That recognition comes with owning one of the Hawaii football program's most distinguished surnames.

“;Between myself and four brothers, two sons and a nephew. I guess it was the start of something,”; said Kafentzis, who began a run of eight family members to play for Hawaii when he arrived in 1979.

“;I wouldn't know for sure, but I'd be hard-pressed to think that anybody's sent as many people to one college playing football as we have to Hawaii.”;

Since Kafentzis, who now lives in Puyallup, Wash., transferred to UH from Columbia Basin (Wash.) College, the family earned 22 letters over the next 29 years. Tyson Kafentzis, the second of Mark's sons to play for the Warriors, just finished his career in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl last Christmas Eve.

Although Mark is credited with initiating the Kafentzis family's association with UH, his move to the islands was influenced by yet another relative.

When considering his choices coming out of Columbia Basin—which included schools in the Western Athletic Conference, Pac-10 and Big 8—he talked to a cousin who was stationed at Marine Corps Base Hawaii in Kaneohe.

“;I went over there, liked the climate, knew the WAC was a good passing league and knew it would be good for me as a DB,”; said Kafentzis, who was ready to escape the cold of the Northwest.

Kafentzis redshirted his first year and was a starting safety in 1980 and '81. Relying heavily on defense, the Rainbow Warriors went 17-5 in those years and earned the school's first national ranking in 1981.

Kafentzis played a pivotal role in a 16-13 homecoming win over West Virginia in 1980, knocking Mountaineers quarterback Oliver Luck out of the game (a fact Luck reminded him of when they crossed paths in the NFL) and recovering a fumble that set up Jim Asmus' game-winning field goal.

The wave of family members suiting up for UH soon followed. Kurt and Kent joined Mark as freshmen in 1981. Kyle arrived two years later and Sean lettered for the Rainbows in 1987.

The line resumed in 2004 when Mark's son Landon transferred to UH from Arizona, and Tyson joined him a year later. His nephew, Mikhail, spent his freshman year at UH in 2005 before transferring.

“;They had a great run there with the bowl games,”; Mark said of his sons. “;I wish they would have had the Hawaii Bowl when we were playing because we certainly had good enough teams back then. It was basically the Holiday Bowl or nothing.”;

A nationally televised 13-3 loss to BYU in 1981 denied the Rainbows a WAC title and that coveted bowl appearance.

Along with his brothers, Mark influenced a young Rich Miano, then a walk-on, who modeled his approach to the game after a group of safeties that included Blane Gaison and Keoni Jardine.

“;I really looked up to him because his work ethic was tremendous,”; said Miano, who remains close with the Kafentzis brothers. “;He was strong, he was fast, he was diligent. So he had a lot to do with my career being successful. He was kind of a leader, so we were like pups following the big dog around.

“;It's amazing how many people in Hawaii still ask me, 'Are you a Kafentzis?' We share a bond being safeties in the same era.”;

Not everyone in the Kafentzis clan matriculated to Hawaii. One of Mark's nephews played for Oregon and another (”;if you can believe that”;) went to BYU.

So are there more on the way?

Mark said Kent and Kyle—now coaches at Utah power Juan Diego Catholic High—have sons who are good athletes, as does Kurt.

As for Mark's youngest son, Giovanni, the Warriors may have to wait a while for him.

He will soon turn 4.


Jason Kaneshiro covers UH football for the Star-Bulletin. We reveal five more all-time greats tomorrow.