Ka'ai has six finalists, Stanford app in hand

"Our season is done already," a disappointed Koa Ka'ai told The Bootleg in a phone interview moments before the Saturday night Stanford/Arizona tilt kicked off. "We kind of hit a rough spot, but came back and then lost a game in overtime. Things slid from there and we ended up 5-5 and finished last Thursday.

"It was a big disappointment after winning the state title last year. We thought we'd be better this year, but the chemistry wasn't there. We were thinking, we had returners at key spots and we'd be alright, but I just learned you have to have more of an edge to get things done, versus a laid-back attitude," he said.

With his senior season having ended abruptly, the next snap Ka'ai will take will now be at the college level. He recently narrowed a lengthy list of suitors to six finalists, and has taken official visits already to two of the schools, Nebraska and Oregon. He highlights the strong points of each school with The Bootleg:

  • Arizona – "I really like the way they play defense. They're a pretty good team this year, with a lot of kids from Hawaii and the West Coast, which is better for my parents."
  • Stanford – "It's excellent academics, a great location because I like the area, and really like Coach Anderson. The two DL coaches have a bunch of experience, Coach Hart, which is a really good thing. I like way the program looks now and how they look in a couple of years."
  • Nebraska – "I liked my recruiting trip. It was awesome. All there is in Nebraska is football, so people there love the team, love the school. People were really accommodating. It's a great football culture and the tradition is second to none."
  • Colorado – "People have questioned [why I have them as a finalist], but I really like the area. It's a great atmosphere, a clean city, a cool city to live in. I like the DL coach, and there are a bunch of Hawaiian kids there, and I'll fit right in."
  • Oregon – "They're excellent this season obviously, No. 1 in the country. I like the whole atmosphere. There are Hawaiian kids and I'd fit in great. The DL coach, I really like him. I just like the college there and had a good feeling on the trip."
  • Usc – "They have an excellent tradition also. It's on the West Coast and there are a lot of Hawaiian kids who went there and did well, and that says a lot should I go there. I like their coaching staff too."

This being a Stanford site, we asked Ka'ai more about Stanford. He mentioned the ever-important "fit" in discussing several of these schools, would he fit in at Stanford as well?

"I think fit in quite well," he said. "I do alright academically, so I think I could handle that load. There's a D-lineman from Hawaii [Matt Masifilo] who's doing really well, so I think I could fit in. I didn't see him much when I was up there, though I did meet him. If I go back on a visit, I would definitely try to talk to him more."

We also asked why he liked the way Stanford would look in a couple of years, per his earlier comments.

"They're really a program on the rise, and I asked Coach Harbaugh if he had any intentions of leaving, and he said there's no job he'd want to leave for," Ka'ai said. "When you don't have to worry about a coaching change, I think teams can really flourish. When that's off the table, teams can be off to a really good year. You hear a lot of stories about a kid recruited to a school where the coach leaves and he's stuck there, so it was reassuring to me coach said he'd stay there [for the entirety of my Stanford career]."

Ka'ai has visited Oregon and Nebraska, with three visits left to divide among his four remaining finalists.

"I haven't decided [on which schools to visit]," he said. "I had one scheduled for Arizona/Arizona State, but I just noticed it conflicts with the Hawaii All-Star Game, so I'll probably have to reschedule. Right now, I'm weighing it out. I've already seen Colorado and Stanford this summer, so I'm not worried about seeing them again, though I probably would like to visit. I'm not sure how to decide [which schools to visit]; it's kind of a gut feeling."

The visits are important though, as Ka'ai demonstrated in naming his early leaders.

"All are pretty even, but I'd say Oregon and Nebraska have the upper hand because I visited and enjoyed those visits."

Ultimately, says Ka'ai, like so many other recruits, his decision will hinge upon comfort.

"It's just how I feel there, how comfortable I am," he said. "Everything else, I'm flexible, but if I'm not comfortable, then my academics, football, I'm not going to do well, and if I'm comfortable, then that'll be a place I can thrive at."

And what, we asked, determines comfort?

"The biggest thing is the people," Ka'ai said. "There's no criteria for people, but just a gut feeling of do I want to be there the next four or five years."

Ka'ai is working on a timeline, which he hopes to decide upon and announce in the next several days. He is also working on his Stanford application.

"I have the app and have had it for awhile," he said. "I'm almost done and will submit it when I'm finished. Coach Anderson told me I don't need to retake [my standardized tests], so I feel okay with that."

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