While thousands of college students were flooding the beaches in Cancun, Mexico and at Fort Lauderdale, Florida two Washington Husky football players were spending time talking with local youth about what it takes to play at the Division I collegiate level.
Former Big Island Interscholastic Federation football standouts Kalani Aldrich and Semisi Tokolahi were in Hilo during the past week as they took a break from studies from the University of Washington where they are scholarship athletes.
Upon return to Hilo both Aldrich and Tokolahi were contacted by Coach Frank Baker and recruited to make the rounds at Hilo and Waiakea High, along with some various Pop Warner football teams to speak with the younger people.
“We talked to high school kids about the need to go through the NCAA Clearing House, that as students they need to aim for a 3.0 grade point average, and they need to learn about time management, study habits and accountability,” Baker said.
“Every time I come back home I try to help the community and helping Coach Baker was just part of showing kids that they can make it to the Division I level,” Aldrich said. “I wanted to let them know that education is important in playing at the college level. If they have any dreams of playing college ball they need to do good in school and work hard.”
Aldrich, a 2007 Kamehameha-Keaau graduate, saw limited action during the 2009 season with the Huskies due to a knee injury he suffered in preseason camp.
“I tweaked my knee during preseason and only got to play in seven of the 12 games during the season as we didn’t want to risk further injury,” Aldrich said.
The 6’ 7”, 260 pound, defensive lineman, wearing number 50 (his high school number) Aldrich has worked hard to keep his spot on the team and maintain a good grade point average in school.
“Playing Division I football is a good experience and it’s fun,” Aldrich said. “At Washington I take full advantage of the tutoring and other help given to us because college is way harder than high school.”
Former Hilo High football star Semisi Tokolahi was the Division I Player of the year as a senior in 2009, gained a full scholarship to attend the University of Washington where he saw playing time in his freshman year.
“They’re all a lot bigger and a lot faster in college,” Tokolahi (who is 6’ 3” and 320 pounds) said. “It was a big adjustment for me as I’m all on my own and everything depends on how much you want it.”
Tokolahi saw limited action with the Huskies but has an optimistic attitude about fitting in and improving.
“I actually got to play in five games and was on special team duty in a couple other games,” Tokolahi said. “Seattle is such a big city and the University has an enormous campus. Some classes have 600 students and it can be overwhelming at times, especially for someone from little Hilo.”
“College is fun and there are many doors that opened for me,” Tokolahi said. “At times there is a lot of pressure with football and school and not being home.”
During his Spring Break Tokolahi wanted to get the important messages of staying drug free and studying hard to allow the opportunity to play collegiate sports.
“The message we sent to those kids that we spoke with was, if we can do it so can they,” Tokolahi said. “We sent positive messages about education and being a leader on and off the field.”
The University of Washington emphasizes several rules to their players, which include: #1 Protecting the Team, #2 Be on time (which means 10 minutes early) and #3 No excuses.
“The demands of playing at the Division I level are extreme and there are severe consequences for breaking team rules,” Aldrich said.
Aldrich and Tokolahi have left for Washington over the weekend and will resume classes on Monday and report to Spring Football Practice on Tuesday.
“We’re looking forward to getting back and studying in the classroom and working hard at practice,” Aldrich said.
“Semisi (Tokolahi) and Kalani (Aldrich) also talked about drug and alcohol use and to stay off steroids and street drugs,” Coach Baker said. “All the time these guys (prep kids wanting to play college sports) work at being a 3.0 student so that they can become smart, then why use drugs or drink to become stupid?”
Baker, who has been a coach at several BIIF football schools which includes Pahoa, Kamehameha and Hilo, wanted to expose young people to the many important aspects of getting ahead in sports which are beyond just being a talented athlete.
“I’ve been a volunteer coach for many years and my paybacks are seeing these young Big Island boys turn into men who are able to be leaders in our community,” Baker said.