Living the dream is what Vince Manuwai has done for a long time now. Once the ConAgra Foods Hawaii Bowl was over, he relocated 5,000 miles from Hawaii. On this mountain of dreams, he's getting closer to the peak, and the view is clearer than ever.
Lunch break with Vince Manuwai
By Paul Honda Senior Writer Thursday, Jan. 2, 2002
Tampa, Florida is home to warm weather, Dwight "Doc" Gooden and a certain cast of pro football figures like Jon Gruden and Warren Sapp.
The west Florida city is also home to University of Hawaii senior Vince Manuwai -- for the next several months, anyway. Manuwai, the All-American offensive lineman, is training there with Nebraska lineman Chris Kelsey and Eastern Illinois quarterback Tony Romo, a name familiar to UH fans because the two schools met early in the recently-completed season.
It was a fall of ups and downs, but the mark of the 2002 Warriors may be the way they kept bouncing back up in the face of challenges. Hawaii's 10-4 season and second bowl appearance in the last four years was, by no coincidence, a direct result of local recruiting. None of the players who stayed home to learn from June Jones stands out more this year than Manuwai.
Though his focus is on preparation for the NFL draft -- it's lunch break in the midst of a busy schedule -- Manuwai's heart has always remained in the islands. It almost didn't happen that way. Only five years ago, in the ashes of the Fred von Appen era, Manuwai saw little reason to stay in Hawaii. "Everyone told me I had to go away to fulfill all my goals," he said.
Hawaii, coming off an 0-12 season, was nowhere near the top of his wish list of colleges. The Farrington graduate was set on going away until a man named June came knocking at the door. Jones, hired by Hawaii to rejuvenate a downtrodden program, walked into Manuwai's home. "I told Vince how badly we wanted him, and that I wasn't leaving until he committed to play for us," Jones would later say.
Jones has been enthused about Manuwai ever since. His expectations were probably higher than anyone else's. Jones predicted an All-WAC career. All-American honors. The chance to play on Sundays once the UH career was over. The former NFL head coach said similar things about another local product, Ashley Lelie. One day after practice in 2000, Jones gushed about Lelie and said he'd become an NFL first-round pick as long as he kept working hard.
Lelie would up selected 18th in last year's draft by the Denver Broncos.
Manuwai's route to the NFL is one he appreciates totally. "You know, to stay home and do it means a lot. I never knew I'd do it. Look at Dominic Raiola; he went to Nebraska and made All-American," he said of the current pro lineman. "To do it in Hawaii -- make All-American -- is the biggest thing because it shows local kids that they can stay home, bust their butt and accomplish their dreams."
When Manuwai talks about his roots, he isn't just talking the talk. He attended as many FarringtonHigh School games as he could the past season, supporting the Governors through victories and defeats. He was there when the Governors reached the state tournament, and he was there at Aloha Stadium to console them after they lost in the first round.
Eventually, when his playing days are over, Manuwai will remain entrenched in the sport. "If you wanna coach, you need it at the college level. If the opportunity comes, I don't wanna worry about not having it," he said of the pursuit for his sociology degree. He's seven classes away. "I'll be ready for summer school."
He also has another reason for making sure he finishes another big goal. "I'm the oldest of seven kids, so I wanna set a good example," Manuwai said.
There have been examples for him to ponder. His mom resides and works in Virginia. His coaches, including O-Line coach Mike Cavanaugh, have set the bar high for their star pupil. Even Lelie, whose work ethic was unparalleled in a rise from walk-on to the pros, set an excellent standard.
But the most striking example is Jesse Sapolu, the Farrington graduate who went to UH before embarking on a lengthy career with the San Francisco 49ers -- Manuwai's favorite team. He's ready for any team, though, and any challenge. "Once you get to the pro level, you gotta adjust slowly, like when I went from Farrington and Coach (Skippa) Diaz's run-blocking scheme to UH and the Run and Shoot," he said.
And with that, Manuwai's lunch break was over, and he was back to work in sunny Tampa.