Cerritos Junior College offensive lineman Giovanni Chanes spent his freshman season leading the way for Falcons All-American running back Elijhaa Penny, but with his stellar play, the 2013 Kealakehe graduate also carved out a path to the Division I level.
Chanes has a scholarship offer on the table from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Kansas and North Texas have also expressed heavy interest in the former Big Island Interscholastic Federation offensive lineman, but Chanes will play his sophomore season at Cerritos before making his decision.
“I cannot explain my feeling when I got the offer,” Chanes said. “I was in my math class and got a call from a weird area code. It was (UAB Assistant coach Jody Wright) and he said he saw my highlight tape and followed me through the season. It was a real surprise. I did not know they were recruiting me. It felt really good, like all my hard work was finally paying off. In Hawaii, we do not get the type of expose the mainland kids get.”
Chanes’ success is a testament to effectiveness of the junior college route.
“For decades, Hawaii athletes who were not quite ready or did not have the grades have gone the junior college route and done very well,” said Sam Papalii, Chanes’ former high school coach.
Cerritos is one of the top junior colleges in the nation and has a reputation of being a pipeline to the Division I level. The Falcons play in the National Northern conference, which Papalii called the “SEC” of the Southern California Football Association.
“If high school players want to pursue playing football at the next level, it is a good way to go to a junior college,” Chanes said. “There is too much wasted talent in Hawaii. People graduate and don’t know what to do or where to go. Going to a JC is not the end of the road. It’s can be the start of a new journey.”
Chanes was initially part of a group of 15 Kealakehe players who were set to attend College of the Redwoods, a junior college in Eureka, Calif. However, Chanes and teammate Jerone Moeoge opted for Cerritos instead.
The change was influenced by a conversation Papalii had with Cerritos offensive line coach Vince Lobendahn, whom Papalii had recruited when he coached at Utah.
Chanes and Moeoge both measure over 6 feet, tip the scales at more than 300 pounds and add great athletic ability.
Lobendahn knows his share about mentoring young athletes. His son, Toa Lobendahn, was a top offensive line recruit in the class of 2014 and will play at USC this fall.
Upon arriving at Cerritos, Lobendahn took the Kealakehe alumni under his wing and helped them get on the path to success.
“Coach Vince made it feel like at home and cared for us like one of his own sons,” Chanes said. “He is a motivator and got me to beyond what I ever thought possible. When I came in I knew almost nobody and competition level out here is way different than high school. These were real men competing against us and they were pursuing dreams as well. He helped us adjust.”
The Big Island boys also relied on each other to get through the homesickness.
“We are like brothers,” Chanes said. “It was easier to come out here with somebody you know because if you come out by yourself you will get homesick quick. Neither of us had really left the islands before we came out here, so we looked out for each other.”
Adding to the excitement, former Waverider David Fangupo joined the team this spring. He is projected to start at nose tackle this season.
“The head coach called me after spring ball and told me about the great job all the boys are doing up there,” Papalii said.
According to Papalii, three members of this year’s Kealakehe squad — Keanu Tifas, Winton Palik and Travis Lualemaga — are contemplating attending Ventura Junior College, which is in Cerritos’ conference. If so, the trio would join former teammates Elliot Kean Gonzalez and Givseppi Zapataoliva, as well as Konawaena alum Manu Vete and Keaau’s Lyle Shut.
Cerritos plays Ventura on Sept. 27.