The story really began when Tom Friel was planning a trip to the mainland to give his two sons an opportunity to work out for college coaches. The first stop for father and sons would be the 2006 All Poly Camp at Bountiful High School. The second stop was originally intended to be Utah's summer camp, but after Tom filled out the paperwork, he felt prompted that he needed to take his sons to BYU. He followed his prompting and signed his boys up for BYU's padded camp. It was not until last week, when Tom attended the All Poly Camp with his sons, that he understood why.
One of the featured speakers at the All Poly Camp was BYU Head Football Coach Bronco Mendenhall. His message was different from those of other coaches. Mendenhall touched only lightly on football; his primary focus was on faith and living with honor. Tom, a devout member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was deeply impressed by Coach Mendenhall's unabashed references to things sacred. Tom wanted his boys to go to a camp where they could learn from a man who would discuss things of this nature at a secular football camp.
Kaneakua performed well enough to be honored as the top tight end of the All Poly Camp and catch the attention of the college coaches in attendance. Coaches from the University of Utah in particular were eager to have him attend their camp, but each of the Friels were so taken with Coach Mendenhall that they were determined to attend his camp.
"I like that Coach Mendenhall is just like our [LDS] bishop," said Kaneakua. "One of the first things I noticed about him is that he reminds me of our bishop at home, just the way that he talks and the way that he stresses all the values of the Church before he stresses athletics and facilities and stuff like that."
The camp was an educational experience for Kaneakua. He was a receiver at the Oahu campus of Kamehameha High School, but at BYU's camp he played tight end, linebacker, running back and defensive end.
"I learned a lot about defense, since I haven't played that for a while," said Kaneakua. "I learned everything from stance and how to read the offensive plays, to little hints that help you to get the edge."
Kaneakua has considerable athletic ability for his size. He ran a 4.63 forty at the PIAA combine in Hawaii. He also posted a 4.4-second shuttle, a 30-inch vertical jump, and 15 reps with the 185-pound bar. Even though he will be a senior this fall, he will not turn 17 until the end of October. He will likely add mass to his already large frame during his senior year and on through his freshman year at BYU. The potential for growth makes it hard to predict where he will end up on the field.
"Coach Mendenhall didn't really say what position I'll be playing, but I think he's just looking at me as an all-around player," said Kaneakua. "I'll go wherever he wants."
There is no doubt where Kaneakua's "little" brother Kala will end up. Already over 300 pounds as a soo-to-be-sophomore, the youngest Friel is a lineman for sure. Kala put on an eye-opening display of strength during a tug of war competition between the underclassman. With a team of smaller kids, he all but single-handedly won two different pulls against teams made up of several good-sized linemen. What made his feat more impressive was that due to the slope of the practice field, Kala was pulling up hill.
While Kala will be intriguing to follow over the next two years, Kaneakua's time has arrived. Not long after leaving BYU following the conclusion of camp, Kaneakua received a scholarship offer from Coach Mendenhall. His experience throughout the week with the coaches and players led him to quickly accept the offer.
"It was the right place for me to go with its environment and because it was the school of the Church," said Kaneakua. "I like the feeling of the Spirit when you're on campus."
Kaneakua's religious sensitivity should not come as a surprise. He is only living up to his name. Kaneakua is Hawaiian for "Man of God." Kaneakua's father chose the name to show gratitude for being blessed with his first son. He feels that his son's choice of college shows that the name was aptly bestowed.
"I could not be more proud," said Tom.
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