Hawaiian punch looms large

SEATTLE - If you are a Washington football fan - every once in a while, if you head on down to Asian super-store Uwajimaya in the International District, you just might see a couple of familiar faces roaming up and down the aisles. Just ask Wilson Afoa. Or Jay Angotti. See, it's at Uwajimaya where you get the Aloha Shoyu - a kind of soy sauce that's only made in Hawai'i.

It's the little things like shoyu, as well as the other things the Hawaiian players like to talk about in their native pidgin, that keeps the culture alive - even if they are roughly 2700 miles from their home.

"Geographically, the University of Washington makes a lot of sense for prospects from Hawai'i," Washington Linebackers Coach Chris Tormey said Wednesday. Tormey also happens to be Washington's Recruiting Coordinator and one of his recruiting areas is Hawai'i. "It's a non-stop flight, there are an awful lot of non-athletes that come to the University of Washington from Hawai'i, and there's a big Hawai'i contingent on campus. The University is well respected in Hawai'i and a lot of kids strive to come to the University of Washington out of high school - athletes and non-athletes."

The large, close-knit Polynesian community is what sold St. Louis defensive tackle Wilson Afoa, now a fifth-year senior for the Huskies. "When I first came on my recruiting trip - meeting all the Polynesians for the first time - they really took care of me," Afoa told Dawgman.com. "The comraderie was there. Everyone seemed to get along well. That attracted me."

"I have people off-campus that are from Hawai'i that look after me," added Angotti, a second-year walk-on defensive back who played his high school ball at the Punahou School in Honolulu, who was looking to walk-on at Northwestern or possibly play in the Ivy League before choosing to stay a little closer to home. "I just wanted to make sure I went to a place that had a good education. That was the first thing. Coming up here was like a second home."

In the case of Daniel Te'o-Nesheim and Kalani Aldrich - both from the 'Big Island' of Hawai'i - they had connections with the school that helped play a part in their ultimate college decisions. Te'o-Nesheim, a third-year defensive end was coached at Hawai'i Prep Academy by former UW offensive lineman Bern Brostek, and Aldrich - a freshman defensive end - knew former UW defensive end Brandon Ala,

"It started the day I turned out for football in the ninth grade," Te'o-Nesheim said of his relationship with Brostek. "I told the head coach that I could play center, and he pointed at Bern and told me to go over there. That's how it all started.

"He wasn't pushing me to Washington, but he was so mad when (former HPA teammate) Max (Unger) committed to the (Oregon) Ducks. The day before the first practice of senior year, he told Max, 'There's no Ducks on my line', so he knew he was going to have a long year.'

Ironically enough, Te'o-Nesheim doesn't remember talking about football with Brostek off the field. But he did ask for his advice when he was searching for the right college to attend. "I'd ask him about all the crazy stories coaches would tell me, and I'd ask him about it and he'd tell me that they were all lies," Te'o-Nesheim said with a laugh.

Aldrich - the youngest of the group - is still adjusting to being away from home. "I listen to the music from home, or eat food that I brought with me," he said. "I couldn't bring too much, but I brought some things, like spam. I also hang out with the local kids from Hawai'i, that always helps out." He'll listen to groups like Ekolu, Three Plus and Israel Kamakawiwo`ole (best known for his rendition of 'Over the Rainbow'), who goes by 'Braddah IZ'.

Te'o-Nesheim, on the other hand - would rather listen to groups like Mindless Self Indulgence. "That's my favorite band when I'm in Seattle," he said. "I went to see them as a redshirt frosh at the Paramount. It was packed, sold out. They have a cult following. But I don't listen to them anymore. My iPod got stolen during the Stanford game. That was a bad day."

But mostly, the Hawaiians like to hang together, tell stories, eat the local food - whether it's something they cook themselves or find at the Hawaiian B-B-Q joint on the Ave or at L&L in Lynnwood, and do whatever else they need to remind themselves of home.

"I talk to my friends on the phone," Te'o-Nesheim said.

"Jay and I have a couple of the other teammates come over and we'd have a little barbeque," Afoa said about one of the more popular summertime activities. "And people here, they think they know what barbeque is, but that's just like hot dogs and stuff like that. This is the real deal barbeque. That's how we do it back home."

"When I think of Chicken Katsu, I think of L&L," Te'o-Nesheim chimed in.

"There's a lot of Hawai'i outreach here," Aldrich said.

That includes something called the 'Hawai'i Club'. "I heard about it through school," Afoa said, also noting that he's really not an active member of the club. "They have a big luau with local bands every spring."

It's these types of things that attracted players from the islands to the Northwest. And when Hawaiian players go back to their home, they don't lose touch. Many, like Brostek or Petro Kesi at Farrington, teach up players that might consider the Huskies down the road. In fact, according to Te'o-Nesheim - Brostek has a son, Shane, who is going into the eighth grade. "He's 225 pounds and he bench presses 225 pounds," he said of the younger Brostek. A future Husky, perhaps?

"I'll get letters from former Huskies - athletes and non-athletes - that will tell me about a prospect in Hawai'i and we'll follow up," Tormey said. "It's good to have that kind of contact."

On the field, fans might notice that - before each game - the Polynesian players get in a circle, presumably a prayer. Afoa confirms our suspicions. "We always have a little pre-game prayer, to pray to make sure that no one gets injured," he said. "It also brings us together as one. We never forget that island feeling."

For Angotti, he's not forgetting it any time soon. "Being a walk-on, you have to work harder to represent," he said. "You have to prove yourself all the time. You don't get any breaks. When you get an opportunity, you really have to take hold of it. When I got a chance to play in the spring game, I was really thankful for the chance. I know I can contribute and I know that I made the right choice coming up here."

But when he's with teammates from Hawai'i, they don't differentiate between scholarship and walk-on. He's just one of them. Almost.

"Coming from a haole (foreign) school, I get a little bit of ribbing," Angotti said, standing next to Afoa. "But then again, I never lost to St. Louis either."

He smiled at Afoa. Then they all started laughing.

For veterans like Afoa and Te'o-Nesheim, the bar is set that much higher. "I always try to put myself in a good situation and I set really, really high goals," Te'o-Nesheim said. "I'm not just expecting to win a couple games. I want to win all the games. I'm not expecting just a couple of sacks. I'm hoping Greyson (Gunheim) and I get a lot of sacks."

And the fact that all the Hawaiians on roster right now are defensive players doesn't mean a thing to Tormey - even though he's a defensive coach himself.

"We're just looking for the best players," he said. "Doesn't matter if it's offense or defense."

And if they come from Hawai'i, he probably won't have to look very hard.

Dawgman.com Top Stories