BYU Offers Kahuku Junior Kona Schwenke

Without breaking any rules, BYU jumped the gun Wednesday as the first to offer a football scholarship to 16-year-old junior defensive end prospect Kona Schwenke - whom his coaches describe as a "big-time player" that will be "one of the most sought-after players from Hawaii next year."

"I was surprised and really excited. I wasn't expecting anything like this so soon," Kona Schwenke told Total Blue Sports Wednesday night. "Our athletic director [Joe Whitford] pulled me out of class this morning around 10:00 and he said, ‘Congratulations Kona, BYU has offered you a scholarship' and gave me the letter to read."

A starter for the first time this season at No. 6 ranked Kahuku High School – Hawaii's most prolific Division I football recruiting assembly line – Schwenke's 6-foot 5-inch, 210-pound frame, 4.7 forty speed, quick-twitch first step and overall athleticism have drawn early recruiting interest from USC, Oregon, UCLA, Stanford, Hawaii, Utah, UNLV, Oregon State, Arizona State, Michigan State, Northwestern and Colorado. He reports a 3.3 cumulative GPA.

In the first four games this season on a three-man defensive front, and after playing less than three quarters in each game because of blowout scores, Schwenke has recorded 20 tackles, with four tackles for a loss; three sacks, including a sack for a safety last week; one interception that he ran back 25 yards for a touchdown; and eight quarterback hurries.

Schwenke's interception for a touchdown earned him Player of the Week honors from KHON-TV, Hawaii's top-rated network station.

Commenting on his first official offer, Schwenke pointed out that "BYU is where my parents have always wanted me to go to school. I know I can play there and still have the standards and religious ideals I believe in. To me, it's a privilege and a blessing to get my first offer from BYU. BYU is my No. 1 school right now. It is a great school with a great football program."

He added, "I can see myself going there. I think Coach Mendenhall is a great coach. BYU is at the top of my list right now. I know there are other schools interested and it's still early. I don't know when I'll commit; maybe before my senior year. We'll see. I have to talk to my parents and see what all the options are."

Meanwhile, Kahuku's head coach, Reggie Torres, confirmed Schwenke's status as a major prospect: "By next year, Kona will be one of the most sought after players from Hawaii. He's got a lot of room to grow [as a player]. I know that [national prep recruiting guru] Max Emfinger saw his potential as an incoming sophomore.

Torres was referring to Emfinger's 2007 unprecedented selection of Schwenke (and V.J. Fehoko from Farrington High in Honolulu) – based on their standout performances against upperclassmen at his summer camp as sophomores – to his prestigious 2010 annual All American Bowl Game Classic at Veterans Memorial Stadium in Mississippi – featuring some of the country's top high school seniors.

Emfinger described Schwenke and Fehoko as "freaky sophomore phenoms," noting they were "the first and only two sophomores I've selected for any of my 14 All-Combine teams around the country."

"Neither one [Schwenke or Fehoko] was blocked in any of the one-on-one drills – and they went up against some good [upperclassmen] offensive linemen. They have unbelievable freaky quickness," Emfinger remarked.

He added: "Normally I don't notice sophomores at these combines because they're not as skilled and are usually intimidated by the bigger, older athletes, but not these two [Schwenke and Fehoko]. These young, good-looking athletes came out and beat everyone they went up against. That's just amazing."

Schwenke recorded a 34-inch vertical, ran a 1.49/10-yard shuttle, a 4.5/20-yard shuttle, jumped 104-inches in the standing broad jump and "ran a 4.8 forty on wet grass. His 1.49/10 yard shuttle shows he's got exceptional quickness. He's also impressive because he's already 6 feet 4 inches tall," according to Emfinger.

Emfinger's earliest talent evaluation of Schwenke appears to have been borne out.

In his first year of organized football two years ago, Schwenke started as a freshman defensive end on the Red Raiders' junior varsity squad – recording seven sacks, blocking four kicks and earning Special Teams MVP honors. Last season, however, he played sparingly as a backup as Kahuku's senior-laden defensive line played most of the reps.

Coach Torres said he learned of Schwenke's impending offer Wednesday morning when "Robert Anae [BYU offensive coordinator] sent me a text telling me they were sending an official offer for Kona. I was really happy for him. He's [Schwenke] got everything. He's got height, size, great speed for his size, great hands. He's very athletic, a good student and a good kid. "

The head coach credited Schwenke's parents' emphasis on education, pointing out they "are very adamant about his [Kona's] grades. He knows if he doesn't make good grades, he won't be playing sports because they won't let him.

"This is his first year as a starter. Right now, he's one of our better ones - if not the best - defensive lineman. As far as athleticism, he's the best athlete on our defensive line. He's got the technique; he's got that great quick first step and he has great hands. He knows how to press them [offensive line] and rip them side to side. What separates him is his tenacity, speed, [and that he's] willing to give 100 percent on every play," Torres continued.

Torres pointed the colleges "showing the most interest right now are Colorado and Oregon, but BYU got the jump on him. Kona's going to be a good Division I player. I know BYU's standards are very high. He's a [LDS] Church member, very well-rounded as a student, has a high moral background and he's a multi-sport athlete. He's a great student and a great fit; just what BYU is looking for.

"Compared to other great defensive linemen in recent years, Kona is right up there in the mix [in terms of talent] with Nai Fotu and Kaniala Tuipulotu [current starters at Utah and Arizona, respectively]. He's a joy to coach," Torres said, adding, "We might also use him at tight end as a senior."

Informed Wednesday of Schwenke's early offer from BYU, Kimo Haiola, Kahuku's defensive coordinator, said "he's a good kid. He still needs to put on the weight and stay away from rugby. That [broken leg suffered in March this year in a rugby tournament] set him back in the summer and he's a little behind, but he's coming around and working real hard at it.

"He plays well for his height and size. Next year, he should be tearing it up and will be as good as the other great ones that have gone through the program. He could be in the pros in five years. Schwenke should dominate if he works hard. He's very coachable and works hard; a great kid."

Schwenke's defensive line coach, Fatu Fiso, added his firsthand observations of his budding star: "I know he's going to get lots of offers because of his height, foot work and speed. The only thing holding him back right now is his weight."

Fiso elaborated that Schwenke is "definitely a big-play guy. When it gets down to clutch time and the game is on the line, that's when he really shines. Kona steps up and something good is going to come out of it.

"He's going to be a big-time player by next year. He gets better and better every game. He's a fast learner; just tell him one time and he picks up quick on the fly. He's a very coachable kid with quick hands. We're just working on his get-off speed and then we'll turn him loose."

He continued: "Kona can be dominating when he wants to be. He can take over a game when he wants to. He has that potential. He's a pump-up guy; he pumps up others and loves the game. Everybody feeds off Kona. When he makes plays, he lets people know. He has a lot of good leadership qualities."

Fiso added, "He's the most athletic lineman we have. He can do a lot of things. He has good eyes and good hands. He may be slim, but his speed kills. He's the leader of the line [all three starters are juniors].

"Kona works good in space. He's a prototype outside linebacker/defensive end guy. I've been a defensive coach at Kahuku for about 20 years and, at this stage, compared to all the other great defensive linemen, I would say Kona works harder than all of them. His work ethic is unmatched. Others were blessed with exceptional talent; Kona is also blessed with great athletic ability, but he works harder than any of them."

Another astute observer of Kahuku football is former Red Raider star and BYU player Kingsley Ah You, president of Hawaii Digital Sports. Kingsley, first cousin to current Cougar linebacker Matt Ah You, had some additional observations of Schwenke from his game performances he has taped this season:

"With Kona, there's no limit. His hands are quick; he has good feet and that's going to translate onto the football field. His upsides? His size and potential. He's already a force there [defensive line] and he can only improve.

"I'm impressed with his [Kona's] size and ability. He moves well for a big guy. He has a knack for the ball.

"This [BYU] is the first of many offers for him. I know he's an outstanding young man on and off the football field. If he plays for Bronco Mendenhall, he'll have a special opportunity to represent BYU. I'm really impressed with Coach Mendenhall. I watched him on ESPN's ‘Rome is Burning' and I'd definitely want my son to play there at BYU for him."

The eldest son of Junior Ah You, an Arizona State and Canadian Football League Hall of Famer, Kingsley played cornerback for BYU in 1989, left on an LDS mission, returned and tore up his right knee (ACL) before he could play again for the Cougars.

"Coach [LaVell] Edwards was kind enough to let me finish my education at BYU on scholarship. That's the blessing of BYU," he concluded.

Contemplating his son's future opportunities, McKay Schwenke, a former rugby head coach at BYU-Hawaii, was struck by one particular paragraph in Kona's official offer from head coach Bronco Mendenhall: "Kona, we have evaluated your character, intellect, honesty, spirituality, work ethic and athletic ability and have determined that Brigham Young University is where you deserve to be. I can tell you with conviction that BYU is the only place in the world where spiritual, academic, athletic and social needs can be met collectively and at a unique standard of excellence."

Kona's father also noted, "When I read Kona's letter, I was really excited for him. I was impressed how Bronco has referenced that football is his No. 4 priority at BYU. I agree and really like that order of priority. I played sports for a long time myself and I know that anything, like injuries, can happen at any time.

"My wife, Angie, was blown away when she read Bronco's letter tonight after work. She said it was a really powerful letter and she's really excited for Kona."

Both McKay and wife Angie are graduates of BYU-Hawaii. He currently works as Vice President for Adult Friends for Youth, a successful non-profit organization in Honolulu dedicated to working with at-risk youth throughout various high schools.

"I was really excited when I read his official BYU scholarship offer letter. For me as a dad and with all the other college choices he will have, me and my wife's [Angie] top choice for him to play at is definitely BYU.

"Kona and I visited BYU during the summer of 2007 and Kona was still a freshman about to play his sophomore season. I was really impressed when Coach Mendenhall talked about the importance of other aspects besides football like religion, education and family.

"BYU is the one school we were really hoping Kona would get an offer from. The fact it is his first offer makes it even more special for us and Kona. I'm really proud and appreciative that Bronco and BYU have seen something in Kona already to have offered him as a junior. You want your kids to be surrounded by others with common beliefs and values.

"To us as parents, education is much more important than football and a BYU degree has a lot of credibility throughout the country. I also know players usually don't last long in football because of injuries. Once football is over, your education takes over. Having a college degree from a great school like BYU is money in the bank. I believe their educational standards are second to none."

Even with an obvious preference for BYU, Kona's father said it's still early in the recruiting process and they were wide open to reviewing other college possibilities in the future.

With Kona's father being longtime rugby coach himself, Kona's play does not evade his father's critical, even if approving, eye: "Kona's definitely got the ability, but he's sometimes hesitant because he's afraid to make mistakes. You can't take away from his natural abilities, but he still has to learn to trust his instincts more. Football's an instinct game. He has to learn to always be ready to make plays, gamble and go for it. This is his first year as a starter [defensive end] at Kahuku and he's still learning the game."

Commenting on a BYU program that Mendenhall has revived as a highly-ranked national football contender, McKay said: "I would rank Bronco Mendenhall as one of the top coaches in the country. He completely understands the other side of the equation and the importance of personal character development away from the football field. That's more important than football for us as parents.

"His [Mendenhall] BYU record on and off the field over the past two-to-three years speaks for itself. From what I've heard, he's a man of his word. He knows what he wants from his players and they know the consequences if they don't adhere to the rules.

"As a parent," he continued, "you work hard to make sure you prepare your children to showcase their god-given talents and abilities. Our hard work is starting to pay off. Hopefully, he will go on a [Mormon] mission and fulfill his spiritual calling and then come back and fulfill his football calling."

"I'm still working with Kona to build a stronger, more positive mental attitude in the way he plays the game and leads others. Kona broke his leg in March in the last minute of the championship game during the Aloha Youth Rugby International Sevens Tournament. He's a good rugby player and he loves it, but he's done with rugby. This is a crucial recruiting year and he'll focus exclusively on football now. That's where his future is in terms of scholarship offers and maybe opportunities beyond that."

As a result of his broken leg, Kona missed all his scheduled summer camps this year and cost him even earlier recruiting exposure and opportunities.

The only football camp he participated in was the University of Hawaii's "Big Man Camp" in July, where he caught the eye and attention of UH coaches. During a break, head coach Greg McMackin walked up to Schwenke and introduced himself.

He said, "Your name is Kona and you go to Kahuku, right?" Kona responded in the affirmative. McMackin said with a chuckle, "You're probably wondering how I know your name…"

Kona is the second eldest of six children, but the oldest son of McKay and Angie Schwenke. His father is Samoan and his mother is Maori.

Describing his son's best features, his father said, "Kona's personality is that he's an easygoing, humorous, funny kid. He always likes to clown around and gets along with anyone."

Unlike most Polynesians, one of Kona's biggest challenges to date is trying to add as many as 30-to-40 pounds to his lanky frame. "I don't know where all his food goes," his father said with a chuckle. "He eats much more than anyone in the house and he still has trouble putting meat on his bones. With his Polynesian blood, all the coaches keep telling us not to worry… that he'll fill out and gain weight as he gets older. We're still waiting."

Father and son were planning to call Coach Mendenhall Thursday morning to express their appreciation and possibly chat about "family ties."

Unbeknownst to Mendenhall, it seems that Kona's grandfather, Sonny Wirihana [Angie's dad], is married to Bronco Mendenhall's first cousin, Janet Jensen, her previous married name. Both widowed, the two met as LDS Temple missionaries in the New Zealand Temple.

Total Blue Sports Top Stories