By JOE FERRARO
For David Fangupo, the phone call from Norm Chow was a surprise in and of itself.
Fangupo still hasn’t found the words to describe his state of disbelief Chow put him in after the University of Hawaii football coach made him an offer many Hawaii high school football players dream about.
“I felt like it was not real at the moment,” said Fangupo, a Kealakehe senior who verbally committed to play football at Hawaii after Chow offered him a full-ride scholarship. “I’m excited and feel blessed that they would do that for me.”
The 6-foot-2, 348-pound Fangupo was sitting on a bench at Kealakehe High during his lunch period on Tuesday when Chow reached him. The phone call, Fangupo said, marked the first time anybody from the Hawaii football program communicated with him.
BYU, Georgia Tech, Utah and a host of junior colleges had expressed interest in the senior, with BYU and Georgia Tech also offering full scholarships in the past two weeks. But Fangupo said he wanted to stay relatively close to home. He had strongly considered attending the College of the Redwoods, a junior college in Eureka, Calif.
Then Chow suddenly stepped in, giving Fangupo his ideal college atmosphere.
“It’s just pretty much playing for my home team and family and being around people I know,” Fangupo said. “It goes from going to home (on the Big Island) to home again. All the support from my family is still there.”
Today in signing day — the first day high school seniors can officially declare their intent to play football at the next level by signing national letters of intent. However, Fangupo must first take his SAT and fulfill other academic requirements before he can sign.
Before his senior season, Fangupo had played defensive tackle, offensive guard and offensive tackle. But Kealakehe coach Sam Papalii, beginning his second stint as the team’s head coach last fall, saw the quick feet and athleticism of a skill position player when he evaluated Fangupo.
So Papalii inserted him at fullback, and Fangupo responded by rumbling for 538 yards and 10 touchdowns on 74 carries for a 10-2 Kealakehe team that won its third consecutive Big Island Interscholastic Federation title.
Fangupo said Chow did not tell him what position he’d play for the Warriors. But the senior said he’d accept any assignment the coaching staff gives him.
“Whatever helps the team is good for me,” Fangupo said.
In the long run, Fangupo wants to help the Big Island’s youth. With thoughts of becoming a teacher or a counselor, he plans on majoring in either education or psychology.
“I want to help out and give back to the community,” Fangupo said.
Throughout the season, Papalii raved about Fangupo’s performance on the field. But the Kealakehe coach valued his character just as much.
“He was an impact player on the football field for his size and athleticism,” Papalii said. “Aside from his physical attributes, he was well-liked. He was charismatic, and the players gravitated toward him.
“He’s very approachable, very humble.”