Kahuku's Kona Schwenke Commits to Cougars

Kona Schwenke, a national "elite"-rated defensive end from Hawaii's Kahuku High School, flew to Utah Saturday morning and verbally committed in person to BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall that same afternoon - adding a power-packed high-five to what could be the Cougars' best recruiting class ever next February.

In a story on SI.com (Sports Illustrated), top college recruiting analyst Jeremy Crabtree noted, "Coaches are starting to whisper 4-star defensive end Kona Schwenke, of Kahuku High, might be the best (2010 football recruit in Hawaii) of all."

"After an impressive showing at the Nike Training Camp in Palo Alto, Calif., the 6-foot-5, 215-pound Schwenke has become one of the nation's hottest targets. He has received scholarship offers from BYU, Colorado, Oregon State, San Diego State, UNLV, Utah, Wyoming, Hawaii and Washington," Crabtree wrote.

What was said, heard and felt during the intense but spiritual 45-minute private session in Mendenhall's spacious office Saturday afternoon was everything Kona, his parents (McKay and Angie Schwenke) and grandfather Sonny Wirihana needed to reaffirm and validate their thoughts and feelings about BYU.

Angie summed it up as only a mother could: "To tell you the truth, I don't know if Kona is good enough to come here to BYU," she joked. "It was like sitting in an interview with a General Authority, cringing when Kona gave some stupid answers," she added with a chuckle. "It was really intense and spiritual. It was a good eye-opener for Kona and us."

Without further hesitation, Kona pulled the early commit trigger - despite the fact other alluring BCS college offers were expected after Schwenke's dominating performance during the Game Plan Education First Camp several weeks ago in Hawaii.

Kona's summation of the meeting? "I feel great about my commitment," he told Total Blue Sports in an exclusive interview. "Now I can just focus on football and school. Coach Mendenhall said he is not going to try and convince me to come to BYU, but I have to convince myself that BYU is the place for me.

"I then told him I really want to be part of this vision, this team, and I gave him a firm verbal commitment. He said he was really happy to accept my commitment," Kona said.

"I really love BYU," Kona said. "I think it's a football program that's heading in the right direction all the way to the top. [BYU] will help me focus on football, but also my academics and spirituality. With the [LDS] church environment, BYU has the values I grew up on.

"Plus, my best friend Jray Galea'i [2009 Cougar signee] has been telling me a lot of great things about BYU. He says BYU is the best place I would fit in, and I agree. I also know the coaches will help me to do my best in football and in the classroom."

Seventeen-year-old Schwenke's Provo visit with Mendenhall was their first in-depth face-to-face meeting. BYU was the first to offer last September, based solely on game footage the Cougar coaches received from Kahuku High School. Kona was also the starting center on the Red Raiders' varsity basketball squad that was narrowly defeated by Kamehameha in the state championship game earlier this year.

Kahuku head basketball coach, Hiram Akina, spoke glowingly of Schwenke Saturday when informed of his BYU commit: "Kona has unbelievably great footwork; he's better than anything else his size that I've seen here in Hawaii. No one else can match up with his quickness and strength. He carries himself really well. He's a leader in the locker room. The thing I love about him is he's really coachable and does what he's asked to do. I'm glad he committed early so he can focus solely on his academics and sports without any other distractions."

Schwenke's height, athleticism, exceptional quick-twitch first step, speed, quickness, leg strength and block-shedding hand movements evidenced in Kahuku games last year as a junior were enough for college coaches to easily project his substantial potential and game-changing impact.

On the gridiron, no one knows him better than Fatu Fiso, his defensive line coach for the past three years.

"Kona's strength is his legs," Fiso said, echoing the basketball coach's assessment. "Compared to last year, Kona's a lot quicker off the edge and his hand speed is unmatched. He's a stronger, more mature player. He's unmatched from last year, way better."

Informed that Schwenke had just committed to BYU Saturday, Fiso remarked, "They're [Cougars] going to have a hell of a player coming to BYU. He might be challenging for playing time his first year. Guaranteed he'll have some playing time. He'll be that good as a true freshman. He's a great team player. His intensity is unmatched; he's as good as Chris [Kemoeatu], but Kona's more vocal than Chris. Everyone feeds off him. He gets me and everybody psyched for the game. When I need a big play, I always look to Kona and he never fails to come through. That intensity is going to help him at the next level."

Tipping his hat to Schwenke's future BYU coaches, Fiso added, "Any coach is going to love coaching this kid. All I have to do is point and he gets it done. He's that good. He knows what I think and want and I let him loose."

His one negative was that Kona needs to hit the weight room even more to build his upper body strength. "Our d-line this year of Kona, Hauoli Jamora [BYU commit] and Veteson Sauni will be the best we've had since J.T. Mapu [Tennessee], Chris Kamet [Utah, Steelers], Raymond Manumaleuna [New Mexico State] and Darryl Tachibana [declined scholarship from Hawaii].

"These three are untouchable one-on-one. It's going to be exciting watching them this year. Kona has the quickness and speed rush, Hauoli has finesse, and both their motors are just like J.T. (Mapu)," Fiso added.

Kona, whose father is Samoan and mother is Maori, does not have any pre-produced football highlight tapes on the internet like most major recruits, nor did he attend any football summer camps last year - and only one this year.

Beaming with pride and joy, his father McKay, who accompanied his son along with wife Angie to Utah for their meeting with Mendenhall, pointed out: "BYU is where we wanted him to be all along. It was Kona's decision and he made it on his own. As parents, we want him to be surrounded with our kind of values in a program that will help prepare him best for life. It's not just about football.

"Being around like-minded people will obviously help keep him on track spirituality and academically. Football is the least of our concerns for Kona. I know he has the talent and potential to be great. Now it's up to him to realize it. I know other schools can do that too, but we felt at this time it was the best place for him to become the best man he could be."

Commenting on the scholarship offers and growing interest in his son, McKay also noted, "We really appreciate all the coaches we've spoken to from other schools and the support we've received from them. By committing early, we just wanted to be fair and upfront with them so they can move on and make other decisions. Kona plans to call or contact the coaches to say how much he appreciates the time and effort they put in recruiting him."

Kona and fellow lineman Veteson Sauni will spend the next two weeks in Utah participating in intensive two-a-day workouts coordinated by his first cousin's husband, Manaia Brown, a former standout BYU defensive lineman. Brown was an NFL-caliber player, but was injury plagued throughout his college career.

National recruiting guru Max Emfinger was the first to recognize and reward the early talent and potential of Schwenke and Kahuku linebacker V.J. Fehoko at a 2007 summer camp following their sophomore seasons.

They were the first sophomores ever pre-selected to his prestigious 2010 annual All-American Bowl Game Classic at Veterans Memorial Stadium in Mississippi, a game featuring some of the country's top high school seniors.

At the time, 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."

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

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