KEAAU — Perseverance will always be a lifetime friend to Kamehameha seniors Timmy Burke and Kamuela Kawamoto.
They don’t fit the ordinary profile of football players who worked hard to earn college scholarships. Neither had an easy road in life. Both have had to overcome obstacles and they’re better for it.
Burke was born legally blind in one eye and has asthma. Kawamoto has endured the early lesson of time management, traveling in the pitch-black morning from Waimea to get to school.
Being an early bird is a small stone for Kawamoto to skip over. He’s a cancer survivor; before his freshman year, he battled and defeated gist (gastrointestinal stomach) cancer.
Tall and blessed with his mom Tanya Fong’s good looks, Burke was once the chubby kid on the playground, not the most convenient way to fit in. His hard work reshaped his body and sharpened his quick-hitting dry sense of humor.
Burke signed with Menlo College, an NAIA school in Atherton, Calif., on Tuesday at the school’s campus. Kawamoto inked on Feb. 5, national letter of intent signing day.
Both were in good spirits at the main office’s conference room, reflecting on their journey of landing a scholarship, not only working hard every inch of the way, but also feeling the satisfaction of a job well-done.
“It’s a dream come true for me,” Kawamoto said. “All that hard work in the spring and summer has paid off. Someone is giving me money and a chance to play for them, that’s a big impact in my life.”
Kawamoto, 5 feet 10 and 175 pounds, will get a shot at slotback and punter for Pima (5-5 overall, 4-4 conference), which plays in the competitive Western States Football League.
In his senior season, he had 444 receiving yards in 10 games and averaged 40 yards per punt. He made the All-Big Island Interscholastic Federation Division II first team at wide receiver and punter.
Kawamoto has a 2.7 grade-point average and plans to major in fire science. His dad Isaac Kawamoto is a cowboy at Parker Ranch while his mom Margaret work at Kanu o ka Aina, a Hawaiian charter school in Waimea.
He and his mom sent out video to schools and Pacific University, a Division III program in Forest Grove, Ore., was the only other college to show interest.
“My parents always said to be dedicated for what you love and that will take you far,” said Kawamoto, who played soccer as a junior and senior.
He competed in track last season. But he’ll focus on refining his football skills, remembering the punting lessons from Ray Guy’s camp over the summer. When Kawamoto isn’t practicing his punting, he’ll be lifting or running.
“What I learned from his camp in California this past summer is the pros in the NFL do the same basic drills as high school kids, the ball drops, positioning, working on their steps and forms,” said Kawamoto, who still considers himself a cowboy.
“I started football in the fifth grade for the Waimea Cowboys,” he said. “But I’ve been in rodeo since I was born. I was in keiki rodeo.
“I can’t wait to go to college because I get to sleep in. I wake up at 5:15 a.m. It’s tiring and a lot of strain on the body, sleeping little and waking early, doing homework and chores. But it definitely taught me time-management and dedication. It’s worth it to wake up early and sleep late to play the sport I love.”
Burke, at 6 feet and 225 pounds, is a three-time All-BIIF first team player on defense. He’s expected to play either linebacker or defensive end for the Oaks (5-5), an NAIA school in Atherton, Calif.
His mom works at New Hope Church. His dad Douglas Burke is a project manager at Grace Pacific; his fiancee Shannon Gascon is a project manager for Haseko Development on Oahu.
Burke has a 3.2 GPA and plans to major in business management, probably to oversee his dad and future stepmom in his own company one day. Gascon helped his recruiting on the ncsasports.org website. Burke had offers from six other schools, including Pacific.
“I love to spend the day after school putting in work with no one watching,” he said. “While everybody is hanging out with friends, I like to be in the weight room and running. All that hard work pays off.
“I started football in the third grade. Basketball was my first sport, but I fouled too much, so I had to play football. Growing up I was kind of fat and everybody teased me. That’s why I had to play defense instead of offense.”
All joking aside, Burke has made his time count at Kamehameha, where he’s the student body president and in the business and poetry clubs. He competed in track and was third in the shot put at BIIFs and sixth at the Hawaii High School Athletic Association state championships last year.
“I like to give back to the students and the teachers,” he said. “I’ve learned that leadership is not just leading but serving the people.
“We’re bringing in vending machines for my senior project. I’m going to stick a picture of my face on the machines.”
As a cancer survivor, Kawamoto learned that life and second chances are precious. Burke learned that sometimes the best thing to do is play the hand you’re dealt.
“Growing up I thought that’s how everyone was with sight in one side,” Burke said. “I remember bear-crawling at Keaukaha field and blacking out. I’ve got asthma and am legally blind in my right eye. But I didn’t let that get in my way. My mom says everyone has to carry their own cross, and I have one to carry.
“My parents would tell me that hard work pays off. If you have a goal, do everything you can to achieve it and try not to let anything stand in your way.”