Star-Bulletin Sports


Robert Kemfort, left, caught a key pass to pull the Islanders ahead of San Diego 50-49 on May 11. It didn't turn out to be a game-winner; the Riptide kicked a field goal as time ran out.

Catching On

Offense is coming easier for
former UH standout and
Islanders ironman Kemfort

By Nick Abramo

As the arenafootball2 season progresses, the Hawaiian Islanders have turned more frequently to Robert Kemfort for some two-way comfort.

The former University of Hawaii multi-position player has enjoyed an exceptional season so far for the Islanders, excelling in a variety of positions -- wide receiver, offensive specialist, defensive back, linebacker and kick returner.

Kemfort's most striking improvement since the beginning of the season has come as a pass catcher. He had only two receptions after two games, but has caught 20 passes in the last six games. Overall, he's made 22 grabs for 334 yards and seven touchdowns, and he's third on the team in receiving behind Darrell Jones and Isaac White.

"Robert has the size to use his body to shield defenders, he can go up high to catch passes and he has the speed to get downfield, and because he was once a hurdler, he gains ground lickety-split," Islanders coach Chad Carlson said.

"I like his focus. Some guys scream and yell, but he gets up by mentally focusing and not saying a word, and then he unleashes all of his ability."

The 6-foot-2, 230-pound Kemfort, who turns 24 on Friday, is fourth on the team in tackles with 10 solos and 15 assisted stops.

"At UH, I wasn't confident going up for balls because I was recovering from shoulder surgery," Kemfort said. "Now, after a few games of getting used to arena football, I'm confident to lay it all on the line as a receiver. Defensively, things come more naturally for me and there's some things that I have to brush up on. And coach Doug Semones is teaching me a lot as far as defensive back goes."

A sign of Kemfort's value came late in the May 11 game against San Diego. The Islanders trailed 49-44 and had a third-and-goal situation from the Riptide 9. Kemfort got the call -- and the ball, catching a Darnell Arceneaux pass on a fade pattern in the right corner of the end zone with a defender attached to him and 7.3 seconds showing on the clock.

"The week before, somebody wrote he had a case of the dropsies, and nothing hurt him more than what was said in the paper," Carlson said. "I know he's a great player, and that if I gave him the opportunity, he would come down with the ball (for the go-ahead TD). There was no other choice in my mind. He had been practicing like a stallion. He was humble about it (the catch), but he did quietly say 'that's what I'm all about, coach.' "

Actually, Kemfort asked -- politely -- for the ball on the play.

"I was trying to tell the coach that I knew I could make the play. I wasn't trying to be greedy. I said, 'Give me the ball on the fade. I'll get up,' and I told him that I was physically dominating the defender all game and he hadn't seen the fade yet. And Coach had enough confidence to do it, and Darnell (Arceneaux) threw it in the right spot. It was a gratifying moment, but it doesn't stand out as much as if it had been a game-winning thing."

After the kickoff, San Diego won the game with a field goal as time ran out.

Kemfort, who played linebacker, running back and wide receiver at UH, is most proud of two collegiate accomplishments -- winning the Western Athletic Conference co-championship in 1999 and playing in the 2001 Hula Bowl, where he was his squad's defensive captain.

That game at War Memorial Stadium on Maui was quite a homecoming for Kemfort, who hails from Hailiimaile on the Valley Isle.

He was out of football until this spring when the Islanders began workouts.

"I thought to myself, maybe I might be able to give up the game, but I realized I love the game and wanted to get back into it," Kemfort said. "I didn't want to be one of those old guys that just can't give it up, but I guess I'm turning into that kind of a guy. I missed the camaraderie with the guys and the all-for-one team focus."

He thinks the Islanders (1-7) have a chance to turn things around.

"We've got to break out of that mode," he said. "Losing is a habit and winning is a habit. Something's gotta happen to spark us up so we can buckle down and break that habit."

Carlson is only worried about one thing as far as Kemfort is concerned.

"I have all the faith in Robert Kemfort," the coach said. "But I'm afraid somebody (from the Arena Football League, one notch up) is going to see his size, speed and talent, and he could be shifted off-island quickly."

Hawaiian Islanders

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