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Recruiting Hawaii gets a little more involved for BYU football coaches

BYU assistant head coach Ed Lamb explains a strategy to create more contacts in Hawaii away from the popular island of Oahu, where most recruiters scour for talent

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BYU assistant head coach Ed Lamb talks with reporters during a breakout session during BYU football media day in Provo on Tuesday, May 22, 2018.

Steve Griffin, Deseret News

Hawaii used to be a hidden recruiting gem, an out-of-the-way detour for a few college coaches. Now it’s become a superhighway with colored caps and polo shirts from the Pac-12, Big Ten, Southeast Conference, Big 12 and even the far-east Atlantic Coast Conference.

BYU and Utah were among the first to make that long flight and mine players out of Hawaii decades ago and both continue to poke, prod and sign players with the rest of them.

Kalani Sitake, however, has a different strategy of sorts. He still goes to the popular island of Oahu where everyone is after star players at St. Louis, Punahou and Kahuku high schools, but he goes a little further into the bush, to islands beyond Waikiki, the freeway exits of H1, traffic jams of Honolulu and the picturesque North Shore near the enclave of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Laie.

In the December signing period, BYU signed defensive end Tuipulotu Lai from Lahaina High School in Maui and Alex Muti from Kealakekua on the big island of Hawaii where he attended Konawaena High School. He is believed to be the first at that school to sign a Division I scholarship. 

Hawaii’s top four players all attended St. Louis High in Honolulu and signed at Notre Dame (Jordan Botelho), Wisconsin (Nick Herbig), Michigan (Roman Wilson) and UCLA (Matt Sykes). Utah signed Solatoa Moea’i, an offensive lineman out of Punahou and safety Kamo’i Latu from St. Louis. The Cougars signed two from Oahu, linebacker Ace Kaufusi at Kahuku and receiver Koa Eldredge from Punahou.

But Muti and Lai? 

BYU went deeper, flew a few puddle jumpers and drove and flew more miles.

Cougar assistant coach Ed Lamb said it’s kind of cool to say you recruit Hawaii and it sounds like a vacation, but it’s not. It is a lot of hotels and travel and time away from family. The way Sitake wants to do it is a little more involved.

“There are two different calendars in recruiting. One is where you go and prospect, stopping at all the schools to identify players, and another where you go and follow up, a more targeted approach,” said Lamb.

“The way Kalani wanted to cover it is there is probably enough on Oahu for one or two coaches, but it takes more time and effort to go to the other islands. I wouldn’t say Oahu is over-recruited but it is well-recruited by all the schools in the West. The outer islands? Not so much.

“Those schools, those boys, those coaches are really excited when we show up. It looks great for BYU, it looks great for Kalani. That’s where he was raised and it’s a big deal out there.”

Lamb said Muti and Lai are both talented defensive players. “They have bright futures in front of them. Right now they have a lot of speed and height. We’re excited about what we can do with them in a more competitive environment.”

Muti and Lai possess what Lamb likes, measurables that can be exploited and developed at the next level.

“We identified Muti early. He has really broad shoulders and big frame and he’s a hard worker in the classroom. We were told he was the hardest worker on the field, and when we watched him play he was very reckless with his body and had an engine.

“On Maui, Lai was another great fit for us, more of the interior line kind of guy but with good height for that position and already a really stout, thick player. He was the Hawaii defensive MVP for the entire state. He was at a school where a lot of coaches don’t get to, so he was flying under the radar a bit and that suited us just fine.”

Muti’s grandmother lives close to BYU’s campus and that familiarity proved key. Also, on these trips outside Oahu, it helps that Jack Damuni, a member of the staff, a community liaison and native of Fiji, once coached at Baldwin High and Maui High and attended Kahuku High and Chaminade University on the island of Hawaii.

“Yeah, everywhere I go wearing my BYU gear, people come up and ask if I know Jack Damuni. 

 “‘Yeah,’ I answer. ‘I know Jack Damuni.’”