Back from mainland, '11 DE Ka'ai talks Card

Hawai'ian Koa Ka'ai is a 6-foot-4, 250-pound defensive end, a rising senior who attends prestigious Kamehameha High, and has just visited Stanford, Cal, Colorado and Wyoming. His father and he just sat down for nearly two hours with three Stanford coaches, including the head man, so if time is money, it's obvious what a priority Ka'ai is to the Stanford staff.

Sometimes it's the biggest and strongest of men with the kindest of hearts, the premise for the famous Mean Joe Greene Super Bowl commercial. And while Hawaii DE Koa Ka'ai, playing right next to the DT Greene's former spot, obviously has a long ways to go before he's a 10-time Pro Bowler and one of football's greatest defenders ever, already he has at least one similarity with Greene: he shows a softer side. The Hawai'ian, a rising senior who attends Kamehameha High and has just visited Stanford, Cal, Colorado and Wyoming, shows this sensitive side in two ways of relevance to his recruitment. First, he talks of the importance of location, and specifically a school proximate to nature. "I'd like to be close to nature," Koa Ka'ai [prefers "Koa"] told the Bootleg in an interview this past week. "I don't really want to be in a city. If I visit a school and I feel it's best fit, I'll go, but if I had to pick, I'd like to be outdoors."

Ka'ai specifically mentioned Colorado, Cal and Wyoming, the first school to offer him, as schools with natural settings that appeal to him.

Secondly, Ka'ai hopes to live this lifestyle by studying an environmental science-related field in college, in hopes of becoming a research scientist or oceanographer post-football.

"I want to be a scientist, and do research with the ocean," he said. "Either I'd like to do something environmental, or maybe something with history. I'm real into the outdoors, hunting, hiking, fishing. So maybe an oceanographer, or maybe a history teacher or something."

Presumably then the strength and fit of candidate schools' environmental science programs will have a large say in where Ka'ai ends up. He reports offers from Oklahoma, homeland Hawai'i, Wyoming and the entire Pac-10 save for USC, UCLA and Arizona State, so the competition figures to be fierce.

To size up this competition, Ka'ai recently went on the mainland visit during which he saw Stanford, Cal, Colorado and Wyoming. Ka'ai details the trip.

"I left two Thursdays ago and just got back last week, Friday. First, I went to Colorado and spent two days there. Then, I went over to visit Wyoming, and then I flew to the West Coast and stopped by Stanford and Cal."

Koa, enough about those other schools. Our fans want to hear your thoughts on your Stanford trip, which overlapped with the Cardinal's June 22 Junior Day.

"It was a long day: started at 8:30 and ended at 6," he said. "I also came back the day after to sit down with Coach Harbaugh, DL Coach Hart and Coach Anderson. It was maybe one-and-a-half to two hours, just with me and my dad, who travelled with me throughout the week.

"We pretty much talked about Stanford [at this meeting]. Coach Hart talked more about how I'd fit in on D, on the D-line, how they'd play me. Coach Anderson talked about my schedule for senior year, making sure my classes are all good so I can get into Stanford. Coach Harbaugh talked about what Stanford has to offer, and I got a feel of what he's like. It was a good day."

While Ka'ai is close with his family, he is comfortable with the real possibility that he'll leave the islands for college.

"My dad is a fire chief, and has 33 years on service," he said. "My mom is a principal at the middle school I went to. I have one brother, he just turned 21, at Puget Sound in Washington. But whatever school fits best is where I'll go."

And, Koa, just where might you fit in best?

"[I'm looking for] down-to-earth, cool kids," he said. "I'm looking if I could fit into the D. I don't care if it's a 4-3 or a 3-4, I want to make sure I fit in and the DL coach is good. I'd like the coaches to have connections to the pros. Everyone wants to make it there. And academics, of course."

Personal connections often factor heavily into recruits' college decisions, and perhaps that's especially true in the tight-knit community that is the state of Hawaii. Ka'ai has such connections to a couple of schools already.

"Wyoming was my first offer, my sophomore year. And the nature is part of my thinking. And a couple of my teammates are being recruited by that school, so they wanted me to check it out and tell them what it's like. And at Cal, there's a player who, back when I was a freshman, I threw shot put and discus with him."

Additionally, one of Ka'ai's high school teammates is cousins with the most high-profile recruit to come out of Hawai'i in recent memory, former Stanford recruit and current Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o.

Another factor in this recruitment should be academics, as Kamehameha has a reputation as one of the best schools on the islands. Ka'ai reports a 3.55 GPA on a 4.0 scale, and a confidence to go with it that after high school, he is ready for whatever college throws his way.

"Kamehameha is a really fun school," said Ka'ai, who took the SAT May 1. "It's all Hawaiian, and you have to be Hawaiian to get in. [Indeed, the Ninth Circuit Court recently upheld by 8-7 vote the controversial Hawaiian-first admission policy.] You know all the people in the community. Hawaiians support your school. It's really fun – you don't play for yourself, you play for the whole Hawaiian community. Only a select few get into the school. I feel like if I can get through this school, then I can get through college.

"I took a couple honors classes earlier, and then backed off, except for social studies and history. Next year, I'm taking a couple of AP and a couple of honors classes to get into Stanford. … Coach Anderson told me that they're meeting with admissions in a week or so, and if they see my schedule's okay, they'll get me an application already."

If the above timeline is correct, Ka'ai appears likely to still have yet to make a decision when he hears from Stanford admissions, as he decided after his recent journey that further research was necessary. Therefore, Next on the docket for Ka'ai: all five official visits.

"After coming back from this trip, I've decided to take my five official visits first. I want to see more schools and see what other schools have to offer. I go to one school, go to the next, and every school has something. Colorado and Wyoming have a nice background. Stanford has technology and academics. Cal has a mix of academics and the outdoors. Every school has something different, so I want to see the niches that they each have."

Make a list of common recruiting themes, and Ka'ai's recruitment seemingly touches them all: we're discussed family, location, academics and style of play already. Perhaps it's no surprise then that next up is Ka'ai's girlfriend, in his high school class. Ka'ai says he hopes to be close to her in college, but they'll address that after he makes his college decision.

"A lot of guys like Stanford because of the academics, but my friends support me in every decision I make, and my parents and my girlfriend support every decision," he said. "We talked about it and she wants to be close to me, but we'll figure it out after I decide."

At a self-reported 6-foot-4 and 250 pounds, and with a serious girlfriend already, it would be easy to mistake Ka'ai for older, but for the matter of high school football. At no time was Ka'ai as animated in our discussion as he was in talking about winning the holy grail for any college football recruit with whom we speak – a state championship.

"Oh yeah, I'm looking forward to a repeat State Championship," he said. "Last year, we kind of brushed through the preseason, and then our first game in division, we ended up losing [20-17 to Iolani.] We didn't allow one touchdown the whole preseason, but there we lost by field goal. I think it was the best thing that happened to us. We can't think we're the best. We have to work hard and keep charging. It turned around our whole team outlook, we worked hard every day in the film room and weight room, and by the end of the season, we had won State. Quite convincingly too, I'd say: 40-0 in the semifinals and we were up 20-0 at the half in the finals [a 34-21 win over Kahuku]."

Individually, Ka'ai identifies his strengths as his size, speed and work ethic.

I'm still growing," he said. "I'm getting more explosive and stronger. My brother is 6-foot-6 and 265/270."

Also still growing: the list of Ka'ai's suitors. Not for long though, as he plans to narrow down his list and name leaders at the end of summer. Until then, The Bootleg will be ever-vigilant. Stay tuned!

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