By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
The Hawaii Football Club will be collecting canned goods at the Merrie Monarch parade today for Hawaii Island’s Food Bank, a community service project that goes hand in hand with Keala Pule’s mission and motto to: “Build life champions.”
“I want to make that truck hard to push,” the club president said. “I want to make it a tradition, bring a canned good, feed a family.”
Pule wants his youngsters to connect with the community, work hard in the classroom and go to college, hopefully on a football scholarship, completing a cycle that fulfills his club’s mission.
HFC doesn’t have a weight restriction and puts an emphasis on school work. The club’s Champions Bowl is between the two teams (for seventh and eighth grades) with the highest grade-point average. It’s an early lesson in the life of being a student-athlete for high school.
Pule also does his part, holding clinics to make his youngsters better. The club held a speed and agility clinic on Friday at Andrew’s Gym, featuring well-known local trainer Chad Ikei, who has worked with NFL and University of Hawaii players.
Also, Seattle Seahawks defensive tackle Vaughn Meatoga, a former UH player, and Tennessee Titans safety Suaesi Tuimaunei, a Kahuku High graduate, and Las Vegas Locomotives wide receiver Aaron Woods from the United Football League were guest coaches along with NFL draft hopefuls Paipai Falemalu and Richard Torres, from UH.
“We’re trying to create opportunities for kids,” Pule said. “Like us, Chad shares the same vision that there’s a lot of talent in the islands. It’s a reason he came back to Hawaii to train pro athletes. We held fundraisers so a few of our players could train with Chad over the summer. The kids get to train with the best.
“We want everybody to work hard in the classroom and on the field. Hopefully, in the long run it will impact the community. The kids get a chance to meet pro players and can see somebody they can relate to, and maybe grew up the same way, never enough food on the table, wear the same clothes. They can hear their stories.”
One story was how Pule met Tuimaunei, who played college ball at Oregon State, at January’s Pro Bowl.
“It was a foot-in-mouth moment. I didn’t know he was an NFL player until he told me,” Pule said. “I was talking about Chad working with players to get them ready for the pros, and I told him one day you could get to that level. He looked and me and said, ‘I play for the Tennessee Titans.’ I was like, ‘Oh, my goodness.’
“Our kids can look and see that you don’t have to be very big. (Tuimaunei is 6 feet, 1 inch and 205 pounds.) If you work for it, you can get it. That’s where the connect is for the kids. It’s the decisions you make, the discipline and dedication to put yourself into school work and do whatever it is you want to do.”
HFC is also evolving. Next year, the club will partner with Oahu’s Halos (Hawaii Athletic League of Scholars) to form a varsity league for seventh and eighth graders. Hilo and Waiakea intermediate schools already have teams, and there’s one forming in Waikoloa, Pule said.
The benefit is getting Big Island youngsters to compete against tougher opponents at an early age. As an example, Pule pointed to the potential of 11-year-old Macmillian Aloisio, a fifth grader who is already 5-8 and 230 pounds.
“That’s the kind of talent we have here,” Pule said. “That kid would never play football until he got to high school (because of Pop Warner’s weight restrictions). We can help him early on, connect him with Chad to get him early training.”
Then with his club’s mission in mind, Pule summed up the significance of getting someone like Aloisio in the cycle.
“Hopefully, we can all work together, the parents, Chad, his teachers and high school coaches,” Pule said. “I guarantee we can get that type of kid into college. That’s all the stuff we want to accomplish and that’s sending our kids to college.”
For more information about the Hawaii Football Club, call 756-3837.