Star-Bulletin Sports

Wednesday, January 30, 2002


Kahuku's Jonathan Mapu, right, the Star-Bulletin's Defensive Player of the Year, created a stir on the Internet.

Vols fans stirred up
about Mapu’s decision

The Kahuku lineman's decision
to attend Tennessee causes
an Internet ripple

By Jason Kaneshiro

If sales of Visine spiked in Knoxville yesterday, Jonathan Mapu probably had something to do with it.

Tennessee football fans kept vigil Monday night and into yesterday morning waiting for any indication that the Kahuku High School standout might commit to the Volunteers.

Brent Hubbs, who operates, said 30 bleary-eyed fans were still logged on the site's chat room when he finally shut down his computer at 4 a.m. Tennessee-time.

"I think that shows the depth of how important recruiting is to fans here, and it shows how big a name this guy is five time zones away," Hubbs said.

Mapu, a 6-foot-3, 250-pound defensive end who is rated the state's top college prospect, ended the drama yesterday morning by giving a verbal commitment to Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer.

But folks in Tennessee will have to wait another week before Mapu's choice becomes official. Feb. 6 is the first day high school recruits can sign binding letters of intent.

And they may have to wait even longer to see the Star-Bulletin's state defensive player of the year and Parade High School All-American on the field as he plans to go on a mission with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

But if everything goes as planned, Mapu will be the first from Hawaii to play football for the Volunteers. At least two athletes from Hawaii have played other sports at Tennessee --golfer Anna Umemura and right-handed pitcher John Ruiz.

Mapu visited Tennessee, Washington, Brigham Young and Hawaii before making his decision. After returning from his UH visit on Sunday, Mapu's family gathered to pray about his decision.

An announcement was anticipated on Monday, but family members said Mapu hadn't come to a decision. He finally called Fulmer yesterday morning to inform him of his intention to enroll at Tennessee.

The decision, which was already creating a stir on Tennessee message boards, was relayed to the local media by Kahuku coach Siuaki Livai.

"I'm just happy it's over," Livai said. "I know it's a lot of pressure on the family and the boy. If they're happy, I'm happy."

Interest in Mapu's decision kept his family and his coach busy over the past few days and nights answering phone calls.

"I have 600 (cellular phone) minutes per month for weekdays and over the last month I've had 2,000 minutes," Livai said. "After I notified everyone this morning I turned the phone off to go teach. I turned it on after two hours and I had 21 messages."

Mapu's deliberation kept recruiting junkies on edge since Sunday and has raised curiosity among Tennessee fans. Not only have the Volunteers never had a football player from the Islands, rarely have they had any from the Mormon faith.

"We don't talk politics on this board, we don't do a lot of theological discussions," Hubbs said. "But there has been some talk about the difference in the cultures. There's been some talk about the religion. That's new to this set of fans. Tennessee hasn't had one in the last 20 years go do a mission, so the Tennessee fans are still trying to figure that out.

"He's a very good player and a very good prospect, but his story is intriguing because it's very different from a typical recruiting story."

While Knoxville is a long way from the North Shore, Livai expects Mapu to make the adjustment to life in Tennessee.

"He's a nice kid. He's quiet, but he'll make friends quickly," Livai said. "He's a lot like (former Kahuku and Nebraska offensive lineman) Toniu Fonoti."

Craig Stutzmann completed his eligibility with the Warriors. But the former captain was hoping UH could land Mapu.

"I wish him the best of luck. It's too bad we couldn't keep him, but there's going to be a lot of Jonathan Mapus," he said. "That he considered us to the end shows our program is on the way up."

Mapu will join a Tennessee program that won a national championship in 1998 and went 11-2 last season. The Volunteers won the Southeastern Conference's Eastern Division with a 7-1 record and capped the season with a 45-17 win over Michigan in the Capital One Florida Citrus Bowl on New Year's Day.

Tennessee, which finished second in the SEC in total defense, lost all four members of its starting defensive line. So far, Tennessee has commitments from 19 players, six of whom are defensive linemen.

Mapu is the fourth Kahuku senior to make a verbal commitment to a Division I university. Quarterback Inoke Funaki, offensive lineman Kalavi Blanchard and defensive lineman Tala Esera have committed to Hawaii. Running back Mulivai Pula, wide receiver Ferron Fonoimoana and offensive lineman Tuika Tufaga are still weighing their options.

Star-Bulletin reporter Dave Reardon
contributed to this story.

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