BY JOE FERRARO
Away from Reser Stadium, the home of the Oregon State football team, Manase Hungalu liked what he saw in Corvallis, Ore.
The Kealakehe senior encountered a fairly large Polynesian population, and several Beavers with Hawaii roots told him the people in Corvallis have “the aloha spirit, whether they’re in Hawaii or not.”
Outside of the gridiron, Hungalu had found a home that was similar to the one he cherished on the Big Island. That’s why the 6-foot-3, 225-pound linebacker signed a national letter of intent to play football for Oregon State on Wednesday.
“I wanted to feel comfortable where I was living four years of my life,’’ said Hungalu, who will attend Oregon State on a full-ride scholarship. “Oregon State was that place.”
Hawaii, Colorado, Idaho and UNLV had also expressed interest, with the Warriors also offering a scholarship.
Beavers defensive coordinator Mark Banker first contacted Hungalu in the middle of the 2012 football season, and he came to the Big Island to see Hungalu in action. Before he did, Hungalu said, Banker had seen film of Hungalu playing on the defensive line, and Hungalu’s strength and pass-rushing skills impressed him. However, Banker did not know Waveriders coach Sam Papalii moved Hungalu to inside linebacker last fall.
When the Oregon State assistant saw Hungalu play in person, he came away even more impressed.
“He liked the speed and that I’m an open-field tackler,’’ Hungalu said. “He was even more excited that I could play all-around.”
Hungalu’s statistics support that statement.
As a junior, he thrived as a pass rusher on the defensive line, collecting a team-high 10 sacks. As a linebacker last season, he earned Big Island Interscholastic Federation Division I Player of the Year honors, collecting 98 total tackles, two sacks, two forced fumbles, two interceptions and three passes defensed.
That versatility prompted the Beavers to offer the senior a scholarship, but Hungalu wanted to visit Oregon State before making a decision on college. He did so in late December, and he said he immediately established a strong rapport with the team’s coaching staff and became comfortable with his surroundings.
Beavers defensive line coach Joe Seumalo, a 1995 Hawaii graduate, took him to Local Boyz Hawaiian Cafe, a restaurant Hungalu compared it to Kailua-Kona’s L & L Hawaiian Barbecue.
Hungalu also met six Hawaii high school players – Devon Kell (Hilo High), Shaydon Akuna (Kapolei), Castro Masaniai (Waipahu), Alii Robins (Saint Louis), Mana Rosa (Baldwin) and Feti Unga (Kahuku) – on the Beavers’ roster.
“Those kids made me feel comfortable when I was there,’’ Hungalu said.
Shortly after he returned to the Big Island, he verbally committed to the Beavers.
Hungalu said Oregon State wants him to play middle linebacker and that the team did not rule out playing time in the fall.
“The coaches told me if I keep my work ethic, that I’d have a chance to play as a true freshman,’’ Hungalu said.
But if the Beavers want to redshirt him, Hungalu said, he wouldn’t be opposed to the decision.
“I would take that as more time for me to work on becoming a better player,’’ Hungalu said. “At the same time, I want to do my best to start as a true freshman.”
For now, Hungalu remains happy about accomplishing a goal he set since he entered high school: playing football at the next level.
“I’m excited,’’ said Hungalu, who thanked his family and his Kealakehe coaches and teammates for the roles they played in his future. “I’m ready to put more work in. I’m ready to go up there and start.’’