Kealakehe High School coach Urs Leuenberger said one of the things that makes Keoni Yates stand out is he sees how things are going to develop on the soccer field before they happen.
The midfielder knows if he passes to his right, then makes a diagonal run that he’ll be in the perfect position to take a pass from that teammate and put a shot on goal.
It seems that Yates has the same kind of insight into his future.
The recent Kealakehe graduate might be able to play professionally someday, but he knows the next — and most important — step for him will be to get a college education.
“The education is the main reason for going to college for me,” said Yates, who has committed to play for the Division III University of Redlands in California. “I would love to play professional soccer, but the chances are slim. There is a possibility, but the education will take you farther in life. I really believe in getting a proper education and putting it to good use.”
Yates was a four-year starter and helped lead Kealakehe to three consecutive Division I titles in the Big Island Interscholastic Federation. He was the Division I Player of the Year twice, helping the Waveriders go unbeaten in the league in each of those seasons.
“His talent, combined with his athletic abilities, are almost never seen before (in Kealakehe),” Leuenberger said. “He led the team to many championships in the past four years. He’s been instrumental for Kealakehe the past three years.”
Leuenberger said that landing a Division I scholarship is very difficult for a male soccer player and that some of the country’s best players end up playing in a lower division because they can get more money in academic and need-based aid. Yates will have about 55 percent of his tuition paid.
While Yates would have enjoyed the prestige of playing Division I soccer, he believes Redlands, which has made four NCAA tournament appearances in eight seasons, is capable of competing with much larger programs.
“Division I schools are the ones you see on ESPN, but I feel like the Division II and III teams have the same type of level in competition,” Yates said. “I feel like a lot of the teams can compete against a Division I team and not have any problem.”
Redlands, which is located about 60 miles east of Los Angeles, has been one of the better programs in Division III in recent years. The Bulldogs went 12-4 last season and finished second in the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference under head coach Ralph Perez.
Perez has an extensive and impressive resume. He has worked with the U.S. national team as well as pro and college teams at a number of different levels. He received the Walt Chyzowych Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012, which is considered to be the top coaching award in the U.S.
“He’s going to enter a great soccer program,” Leuenberger said of Yates. “Who knows where that is going to lead him, because he’s athletic enough to play past college. I really believe that.”
Yates, who was invited to the U.S. Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program Boys Interregional each of the past two years, likes the sound of that, but he’s also staying grounded.
“If that’s what my coach thinks, than I’d be grateful for it, because he’s an awesome coach and has connections,” Yates said, “but I have to improve a lot to get to that goal.”
Yates played sweeper for Kealakehe as a freshman because that’s where he was needed most, but he became an offensive force in the midfield the past three seasons. Leuenberger said he is athletic enough to play anywhere on the pitch, and that’s what just Yates is willing to do at Redlands.
“I’ll probably be playing right fullback or defensive holding mid, but pretty much anyway I can get a spot on the field,” said Yates, who plans to major in international business. “If I can start playing my freshman year, that would be awesome.”