"He's probably the best nose guard this state has seen in a long time," said Cottonwood head coach Cecil Thomas. "He's a true nose, ‘one' technique inside guy that can stuff everything up in the middle. He uses his hands real well and has great leverage. He's a very powerful kid. He's a good one."
But until last month, Kaufusi was headed the junior college route, if he was to continue his pursuit of a college degree, much less more time on a football field. That's because the 6-2, 275-pounder didn't always have class as a priority when he got into high school.
Steve Martinez is the adoptive father of John Martinez, a junior at Cottonwood High this year. Kaufusi is John Martinez's older blood brother. (John, incidentally, is already considered a top offensive line prospect for the 2009 recruiting cycle.)
Kaufusi lived in the Martinez household for five years. Then, when Kaufusi's birth mother moved back to the area, he lived with her. That's when his focus on high school became fuzzy.
This past year — his senior year — the light finally seemed to come on for Kaufusi. That's according to Steve Martinez, who has become a surrogate father to Kaufusi, and the man who accompanied Kaufusi to Boulder this past weekend.
Ironically, it was when a Cottonwood assistant was helping Lynn Katoa figure out what he needed to do to graduate high school a semester early, they realized there was a chance Kaufusi could fill in the gaps in his high school background, and get himself academically eligible to attend a Division I university this fall, rather than go to a junior college.
Martinez said Kaufusi has never had a problem getting good grades.
"His problem was never grades in class. His core is a 3.1. It was just a matter of no one was there to tell him to go to class," Martinez said.
That's left holes in his high school transcript, holes he's working to fill. Kaufusi is currently taking high school classes he missed via the Internet through a program at Brigham Young University.
"Honestly, there's a bunch of work left to do, but he's right on track," Martinez told BSN Monday. "When he walks across the stage and gets his high school diploma (in early June), he ought to be (NCAA qualified), easily."
Kaufusi has registered to take the ACT this Saturday. He should know results from the college entrance exam by the first of March, Martinez said.
Rewind to last month: When Martinez and members of the coaching staff realized Kaufusi could potentially get into a Division I school after all, they made a highlight tape and sent it to a dozen schools. Most, if not all, called back, eager to learn more. Colorado was one of those schools.
Martinez said Colorado head coach Dan Hawkins told them there's a scholarship with Kaufusi's name on it, as long as he qualifies in the classroom and earns the right score on his entrance exam.
"Colorado looked at us and said Keni has a scholarship, and we are going to keep it for him for as long as it takes him, but we would like him to get a little closer to getting all that back work done before you sign," Martinez said. "I love Hawkins because he's just so honest with you. The other thing he said is Keni needs to come in here and be a little more impressive with the CU academic advising people."
For those who want to criticize the CU academic group, keep in mind, one of their jobs is to make a judgment call on whether or not a potential incoming student-athlete can cut it in the CU classroom. Under recent NCAA legislation, collegiate sports programs are penalized — sometimes by losing scholarships — when they don't graduated enough.
The CU academic people have not yet seen Kaufusi's high school transcript, Martinez said. And without a test score, they don't have anything to go by to make a call.
So, Martinez said Kaufusi plans to continue working hard on his academics, take the ACT this weekend, then return to Boulder on an official recruiting visit — transcripts and test score in hand — later this spring.
In the meantime, other programs are showing strong interest in Kaufusi. He's holding scholarships offers from BYU, Utah and Utah State. Kansas State told Kaufusi they don't have a scholarship currently, but that if he holds off on signing a Letter of Intent on Wednesday, they want to come to Cottonwood Thursday to see him. Others have made similar statements, Martinez said.
But the others may be on the outside looking in. Martinez said Kaufusi was impressed during the trip to Boulder.
"He loved Colorado. He flat loved Colorado," said Martinez of Kaufusi, who is of Polynesian decent. "There's a bunch of Polynesian kids who are there. There's a real sensitivity to the Poly kid."
Martinez mentioned Kaufusi's close relationship with Katoa — who enrolled at Colorado in January — and Coach Brian Cabral being positive factors in Kaufusi's affection for the Buffs.
Colorado is squarely in the lead for Kaufusi.
"Colorado's a perfect fit," Martinez said.
Now it's up to Kaufusi to make it happen.