No joke: Kahuku has a kicker


POSTED: Wednesday, December 02, 2009

It took a little while for Kahuku's Cameron Mercado to get adjusted.

In moving from Boca Raton, Fla., to Hauula in February, he could have filmed a “;Borat”; sequel: Cultural Learnings of North Shore for Make Benefit Glorious Kicker from East Coast.

“;It was just crazy, it was culturally different,”; Mercado said. “;So different coming from Florida. I'd never heard of Tongans, or Polynesian people, really. 'til I came out here. Even what they say, the lingo, the words, I didn't understand, like 'pau.' It definitely took a couple months just to get used to everything.”;

As he talked, Red Raiders teammates filed past during practice, offering up comments such as “;Cameron, you the BOMB!”; and “;I love you, Cameron!”;

Yup, he's gone from lanky curiosity to veritable rock star. Once he started splitting those uprights on a regular basis—most recently, field goals of 49, 37 and 28 (the game-winner in overtime) to carry Kahuku past Farrington 9-6 in last week's Division I state semifinals—it didn't take long for the senior to fit in.

Kahuku coach Reggie Torres chuckled at some of the team's initial impressions.





        Friday at Aloha Stadium

Division I
        » Kahuku (12-0) vs. Kamehameha (11-1), 7:30 p.m.
        Division II
        » 'Iolani (11-2) vs. Kauai (10-0), 4:30 p.m.


“;He's a new student here, so he's trying to get kids to know who he is,”; Torres said. “;He'd tell them, 'Oh yeah, I did this at my school, I did that.' Anyway, I sat down with him and said, 'Here, the kids, they gain respect by what you do, not what you say.' And the kids are looking, he can punt, kick. Eventually, he kind of understood the culture. You don't hear him talking as much, and he's doing a great job for the kids. The kids accept him as one of the brothers.”;

Kahuku counted on its 6-foot-1, 160-pound weapon for production all season (12-for-17 on field goals, 46-for-47 on extra points), and the postseason was no exception.

Narrow Raiders wins in the OIA playoffs—over Mililani (35-27, four kickoff touchbacks), Castle (19-14, two FGs) and Leilehua (24-20, 42-yard FG, five touchbacks)—all had Mercado's footprint stamped on.

“;The whole team started to learn about how he works, and we found a way to work together,”; senior running back Pololu Silva said. “;(The semi) was outstanding. For our school to have a kicker like that. Our school history, we never had a kicker. The best guy we had was St. John Lessary (III), but him coming down, it's tops. It tops all.”;

COLLEGE INTEREST has so far been lukewarm for Mercado (perhaps because they still need to be informed that yes, Kahuku has a kicker). He's waiting on the scholarship offers to roll in—particularly from Hawaii. Other schools like USC and Western Michigan have also sent out feelers.

“;I like the water, grew up close to the water. I don't really want to leave it unless I had to,”; said Mercado, an avid surfer. “;Maybe UH, because I like UH, I like Hawaii, and I think I can take the kicker (job) for UH. Yeah, they have (shown interest), and I'm pretty sure, I'm just waiting for them to offer me right now. If they do, I'll probably just settle up there, if anything.”;

His idol is former Hawaii legend Jason Elam, who arrived at Manoa from Georgia to kick his way to the NFL.

All indications are he has what it takes to be great at the next level. His field-goal range normally extends to 55 yards, and on a good day he can top 60. His kickoffs regularly result in touchbacks.

And Mercado thrives on big moments. If you need proof, find someone who taped the state semifinal. His 49-yarder before halftime gave Kahuku its first score and pumped his teammates up. He tied the game on the 37-yarder with less than 5 minutes to play. And his 28-yarder in OT was on the money as he accounted for all of the Red Raiders' points.

“;Nerve-wracking, a lot of pressure. Just the game I like,”; he said with a grin.

HE ARRIVED as a polished product after giving up soccer following his sophomore year at Boca Raton High to dedicate himself completely to football. Throughout his junior year he spent time at camps, clinics and combines. But he didn't mesh with his coaches and needed a fresh start, so he left after football season.

His sister is on scholarship at Hawaii Pacific University as a cheerleader, and one of the world's surfing hot spots was a logical destination for his final year.

The day he enrolled at Kahuku, he was already out at Carleton Weimer Field, booting balls from midfield with his father, Robert. It didn't take long for Torres and kicking coach Ken Sasaoka to notice.

“;Wow, what a leg,”; said Sasaoka, recalling his first thought. “;And to give me an opportunity to work with someone like him is like taking a Porsche and I just fine-tune 'em. Look at the product. He's running at high RPMs right now. He's on it.”;

Mercado has single-handedly changed the team's offensive philosophy. He's altered the community's enthusiasm for special teams, too.

“;Last game, I heard people, when he got called on to make that (overtime) kick, I actually heard people cheering,”; Sasaoka said. “;Like, 'Yeah, Cameron's coming in!' Whereas in the past, people would be holding arms, like, 'Please, come on, let's make this field goal and let's go home!' It just changed.”;

But Mercado's mission isn't accomplished. Not yet.

“;We got a state championship to win,”; he said.