Deep Canyon


POSTED: Wednesday, November 18, 2009

To understand Tahje Canyon, pull up a chair and open up.

Canyon is going to be a counselor one day, never mind that the fleet-footed Moanalua senior is one of the state's best running backs. With 1,417 rushing yards (7.2 per carry) and 19 touchdowns, he's a key to Na Menehune's success — a 10-0 regular-season record and the Oahu Interscholastic Association White Conference crown.

When Moanalua hosts Hawaii Prep (10-0) on Friday in the opening round of the Division II state tournament, he'll be in his comfort zone again. With or without football, though, he knows what he's good at. He's good, maybe great, when it comes to the art of conversation. He is, in fact, a living example of the notion that two ears and one mouth should make us all better listeners than talkers.

“;I like helping people. I'm always helping my friends,”; he said on a sunny afternoon before practice. “;It's about relationships. That's what we talk about.”;

That's Tahje (pronounced TAH-jee) today. To know him better, go back to a sleepy little town in Texas sometime around the turn of the century.

MAYBE IT'S THE MAYBERRY R.F.D. vibe, but Pittsburg (population 5,100) is a throwback kind of town, at least in cyberspace. The town's Web site notes its “;piney and hardwood forests”; in Northeast Texas, a place near state parks and five large lakes. For Tahje, Pittsburg was home before Hawaii, where he went to live with his great-grandmother, Eunice Canyon.

He stayed with Eunice during his third- and fourth-grade years. She made an impact that nobody else really could. Tahje returned to his mother, Angela, and step-dad, Patrick Collins, but always kept his last name: Canyon. A year later after going home to his parents, Tahje learned that his great-grandma died.

“;I'm the last guy with that last name in my family,”; he said.

Football became the love of his life at that young age, and when Patrick's career in the Navy prompted a move to Hawaii, Tahje found himself at Moanalua as a sophomore. He spent all of one game on the junior varsity team, facing a Leilehua team that featured a gangly freshman quarterback named Andrew Manley. Tahje may not remember the exact details, but Arnold Martinez still does.

“;He ran for three touchdowns — 65 yards, 70 yards and 43 yards,”; Moanalua's varsity coach recalled. “;We needed a safety (on the varsity), so we brought him up.”;

Since then, Martinez has become a huge fan of Canyon. In a program where coaches teach dedication and devotion to the team, Tahje has stood out because he's embraced those team-first tenets fully.

“;We have a morning prayer group at 8 o'clock, and Tahje's been there every morning,”; Martinez said. “;He hasn't missed one. He cares about people. That's what I love about him.”;

CANYON HAS BEEN a highlight machine this fall with the 19 touchdowns on the ground and another two as a pass-catcher. He's taken small plays and turned them into huge game-changing events. One came early in the season against Pearl City, a team that had upset previously unbeaten Aiea. Tahje's 40-yard catch and run for a touchdown gave Moanalua a 28-25 comeback win.

“;He leaps for the ball, leaps over a guy at the goal line. That's big time. Clutch,”; Martinez said. “;Then he comes over and says, 'That's for you, Coach.' “;

Canyon finished with 202 rushing yards in that game, a ways from his season-high of 279 yards (and four touchdowns) against Kaiser. But maybe the most memorable moment to date came against Kalani. Tahje scored on a 29-yard touchdown early, and after five carries, he had 66 yards. Moanalua had a 34-0 lead after one quarter.

With fans and even his coaches pushing for him to win the conference rushing title, Tahje stepped back.

“;I asked him about it, and he said, 'Let the other guys play,' “; Martinez said. “;It wasn't a Keyshawn (Johnson) thing, give me the damn ball. He just wants to give glory to God. He likes to give the O-line credit. I'm blessed to have a guy who works as hard as he does, yet he's so humble.”;

It's about timing and teamwork. He doesn't just run with a football. He loves the ebb and flow of a perfectly executed play. His favorite, off left tackle with a stretch handoff from quarterback Adam Francisco, involves some of his favorite people in the world — left tackle Frank Loyd, left guard Pono Kalua and right guard Roger Soriano.

HPA has stellar linemen of its own, but Canyon is at ease sharing his favorite play.

“;It's OK,”; he said. “;They gotta stop it first. I have trust in my guys.”;