By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
At an imposing 6 feet 3 and 291 pounds, Mauna Palama-Danielson is a shining diamond in the rough unnoticed under a bigger haystack.
The Waiakea senior defensive lineman was bypassed when it came time for All-Big Island Interscholastic Federation football recognition, not making the first team, second team or honorable mention, which requires a single vote from a league coach.
But that didn’t stop him in his pursuit to play college ball. He gathered information, sent out video and was rewarded — signing a nearly full-ride scholarship with Dakota State, an NAIA school in South Dakota that finished 1-10 last season.
“I’m pretty excited. I couldn’t believe it, actually. It just happened,” said Palama-Danielson, who also competes in discus and shot put for Waiakea’s track and field team.
“I just pushed through. As long as you believe in yourself and try, you can do it. My parents have always told me, ‘Don’t hold back and commit yourself.’ That’s what I did.”
Palama-Danielson got his size from his parents. His dad, Queeny, is 6-3 and his mom, Moki, is 6-2. She was a big help in the recruiting process, looking at all the requirements for college eligibility on the different levels and setting up an online profile of her son.
“We attended a college scholarship seminar at Waiakea,” said Moki, who owns Q&M, an auto body shop on Leilani Street. “That opened our eyes. It was, ‘Wow, we started late.’ That was in April, 2011.”
The family relied on video from Thane Milhoan’s website, sportzviz.com, to send to colleges. Peru State, a community college in Nebraska, also made a scholarship offer. Junior colleges in California and Oregon also showed interest.
Palama-Danielson, who has a 2.8 grade point average, plans to major in computer science. He’d like to be a computer programmer or software designer. His interests also include music. He’s proficient in most string instruments.
“He’s musically inclined and can play the ukulele, guitar, bass and drums. He’s got a whole set of instruments in his room,” Moki said. “He has a band with his high school friends and they play at parties and school assemblies. I’m not sure what their band name is because they’ve changed it so many times.
“It all started at Keaukaha Elementary in the second grade. He joined the ukulele band. When he was in the seventh and eighth grade, he would go back and help tutor the kids.”
Like most linemen, Palama-Danielson couldn’t play Pop Warner because of his weight. His brother, Tua, a 5-0, 130-pound first grader, plays baseball and basketball and will look into the Hawaii Football Club, which has no weight restrictions. His sister, Moani, is in eighth grade and plays volleyball.
But when Palama-Danielson got on the football field as a freshman at Waiakea his analytical thinking, from his computer background, took over. That turned out to be a good thing.
“Because he’s a smart kid, he tends to try and process and thinks analytically a lot,” Waiakea assistant Patrick Chong said. “That helped us as coaches because he questions what his assignments are, what he is supposed to be doing on a given play, and more so, just wanting to know how to get better.
“He may not have been recognized locally, but Dakota State must have seen enough good film on him, and liked his character and academic achievements enough to make him a scholarship offer. That just shows what kind of individual Mauna is. He’s worked very hard at wanting to become better. And he’s done a lot of his own recruiting himself. He’s a go-getter, someone who knows what he wants and where he wants to be.”
Moki added that it was a proud parent moment when her son landed the scholarship, a tribute to more than just his hard work in the class and field.
“I feel it all starts from the home with the upbringing, getting them focused on school, getting them involved in things,” she said. “But a lot of it is they have to want it. When you find what you want to do, I’ll back you up no matter what.
“He chose the right path and that opened the door for him to get a higher education. He’s the one I never had to worry about whether he was studying. Getting a higher education is what every parent wants for their kids. He’s a good role model to his baby brother and sister. We’re very proud.”
The 2011-12 Big Island Interscholastic Federation class has seen more than 20 student-athletes sign college scholarships:
• Shane Brostek, Hawaii Prep, Washington
• Pslam Wooching, Kealakehe, UCLA
• Mike Andrade, Konawaena, Hawaii
• DJ Grant-Johnson, Kamehameha, Navy
• Warner Shaw, Kamehameha, Puget Sound
• Akoakoa Paleka-Kennedy, Kamehameha, Arizona Western
• Isaiah Correa, Waiakea, Arizona Western
• Mauna Palama-Danielson, Waiakea, Dakota State
• Keli‘i Kekuewa, 2010 Kamehameha, Bowling Green
• Lia Galdeira, Konawaena, Washington State
• Dawnyelle Awa, Konawaena, Washington State
• Nani Yanagi, Waiakea, Washington State
• Quintin Torres-Costa, Waiakea, Hawaii
• Koa Matson, Hilo, Lon Morris
• Kaimana Moike, Kamehameha, Lon Morris
• Jayse Bannister, HPA, Lon Morris
• Dylan Shiraki, Honokaa, Lon Morris
• Joey Charbonneau, Honokaa, Lon Morris
• Kolten Yamaguchi, Konawaena (early graduate), Pepperdine
• Daniel Aina Jr., Kamehameha, Hawaii
• Waihilo Chartrand, Hilo, Eastern Arizona
• Destynee Figueroa, Hilo, Otero junior college
• Kalei Paige, Kamehameha, Otero junior college
• Chynna Loeffler, St. Joseph, Sakit Valley
• Katie Case, HPA, Air Force