Vaioleti begins building
on a new career tonight
It was a conversation far removed from football that convinced Jim Leahey that Doug Vaioleti might someday have a future in broadcasting.
Leahey recalls a spirited discussion a few years back in which Vaioleti, Mitch Kaaialii and Joe Onosai -- all former University of Hawaii linemen -- expounded on the virtues of their Polynesian ancestries. Vaioleti represented the Tongan point of view, while Kaaialii spoke for the Hawaiians and Onosai the Samoans.
"I liked his logic and I liked his quickness," said Leahey, the longtime voice of UH sports. "It was a good-natured debate with a lot of laughing and back slapping and things like that. ... Kaaialii would stick up for the Hawaiians and right away Doug would say, 'You can't speak for the Hawaiians, you were raised in Las Vegas.'
"He had a great sense of humor and still does, and I think a sense of humor gives good evidence of intelligence."
Vaioleti's quick wit stuck with Leahey through the years, so when a position for a color analyst for UH football broadcasts opened up this summer, Leahey immediately sought out Vaioleti.
Vaioleti begins his stint as color commentator for KFVE's UH football telecasts tonight with the Warriors' season opener against Appalachian State. He replaces Dick Tomey, who left the booth after two seasons to take an assistant coaching job with the San Francisco 49ers.
"He called me up and it just blew my mind," Vaioleti said. "You talk about dreams coming true, this for real is a dream come true and it's happening for me right now."
Vaioleti, a Kahuku High School graduate, played for UH from 1990 to 1992 and was a first-team All-Western Athletic Conference pick his senior season, when he helped the Rainbows win their first conference championship.
He achieved every lineman's dream by scoring a touchdown in UH's 42-18 win over Wyoming that season. He picked up the ball on a "fumble-rooskie" and rumbled into the north end zone at Aloha Stadium to seal a victory that clinched the WAC title for UH.
Reaching his career goal took a bit more patience.
Vaioleti graduated from UH with a journalism degree and worked as an intern at KHNL in hopes of landing a full-time position. But a lack of opportunities led him to seek another vocation.
"I tried to do the internship route, where you just hang on and wait for something to open up and it just wasn't happening," he said. "So I had to get a job that paid bills and went into the work force."
Vaioleti became a union carpenter with Sunrise Construction. After a while he let his broadcasting dreams fade into the background of everyday life as he and his wife, Stephany, raised their daughter Kia, who is now 5 years old.
He served as an offensive line coach at Kahuku for a year, but the demands of working and raising a family soon crowded out any time for football.
"The last couple of years I've just been focusing on becoming the best carpenter I can be," he said. "It's a hard job to keep year-round, you're competing with all the other carpenters out there just to stay employed."
But Leahey kept Vaioleti's number handy and when Tomey took the 49ers position he invited Vaioleti to try out for the job.
"I always kept him in mind in case a situation like this would come up," Leahey said. "I think he fits right into what a color analyst should be."
Vaioleti is the latest in a line of former UH linemen -- including Shawn Ching, Larry Goeas and Onosai -- who have shared the booth with Leahey.
"I think linemen make the best analysts," Leahey said. "I think linemen see everything. ... They understand the roles of many different kinds of players."
After Vaioleti accepted the job, his boss at Sunrise Construction gave him three weeks off to prepare for the upcoming season. He's spent many mornings over the past month at the UH practice fields getting to know this year's Warrior squad.
But the preparation doesn't end with simply watching practice and studying media guides.
"We'll be in a restaurant," Vaioleti says, "and (Leahey) will just start like he's starting a game. 'So I turn to you Doug Vaioleti, former Hawaii offensive lineman, and I ask you for your opinion,' and we'll go."
Leahey said Vaioleti's ease on the air and the "intellectual stamina" to analyze a four-hour game will develop over the course of the year. But both said the relationship they already have gives them a head start on the season.
"We're good friends and we talk about football all the time," Vaioleti said. "So if we can just move that natural conversation and put it on TV, I think it's going to come across really well and the fans will enjoy it a lot."