Mitchell Loewen's rise from a 160-pound wrestler as a Lahainaluna High School sophomore to scholarship football player at the University of Arkansas is remarkable in itself.
When fall camp opens for the Razorbacks on Monday, Loewen's rocket ship ride from Maui Interscholastic League Defensive Player of the Year as a Luna senior in 2011, to lightly recruited walk-on, to starter in Fayetteville, Ark., will have a few more levels to the story.
Loewen is coming off a torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered in 7-on-7 drills in February, but is on track to be ready for the Hogs' opener on Aug. 30 at Auburn.
Mitchell Loewen, a Lahainaluna High?School graduate, suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament during drills in February, but is expected to be ready for Arkansas’ season opener Aug. 30 against Auburn. He started five of 12 games at tight end last season.
UNIVERSITY OF ARKANSAS photo
"I feel great," Loewen said via phone earlier this week. "The trainers have done a great job hearing me out, pushing me when they can and backing off when I'm sore. But, overall, I feel ready for Auburn."
In fact, the first player from the MIL to play football in the Southeastern Conference is set to go two ways this season.
"Right now, I'm practicing at defensive end, but they said they are going to bring me in on short-yardage and goal-line (situations) as a tight end," Loewen said. "I'm loving it, I couldn't ask for more. Playing both ways in the SEC, that's kind of a big deal. There's not too many guys who can do that. It's a pretty high honor.
"I never could have imagined this in my wildest dreams. It has been a huge blessing from God."
Loewen started five of 12 games at tight end last season and caught two passes, including a 24-yard touchdown in the season opener against Samford.
"Mitchell is everything we look for in one of our student-athletes," Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said. "He walked on and earned a scholarship, is a great student in the classroom and makes positive contributions on our team. He has worked really hard this offseason to overcome his knee injury and we can't wait to have him back on the field this fall."
At 6-foot-6, 280 pounds - he was listed at 6-4, 269 last season - Loewen appears ready to roll. This season, his redshirt junior year, and next, Loewen will play with a heavy heart.
His father, Chuck Loewen, will report to a federal prison in Oregon later this month for a 37-month term. The former San Diego Chargers offensive lineman was sentenced last month on felony tax charges.
U.S. District Judge Derrick K. Watson, who sentenced Charles Loewen, also sentenced his wife, Paula Loewen, to three years' probation.
"While this whole thing has been going down, my dad has been telling me he will probably never see me play again," Mitchell Loewen said. "The only way is if I go pro and he could see me play again then. So, yeah, it's a lot of motivation."
There is plenty of support on Maui, from everyone in his family, including Mac McClain, his grandfather who paid his tuition as a true freshman before he was awarded a scholarship.
"Every time I call home they are just always raving about how proud they are of me," Loewen said. "How they just want to keep doing what I'm doing."
Chuck Loewen hopes to see his son on TV this fall.
"That's what he told me," Mitchell Loewen said. "If the guys find out he has a son playing SEC football, they are going to want to watch him also."
Chuck Loewen worked with federal authorities to save Paula Loewen from jail time.
"He has handled it better than anyone I know that has been in that situation," Mitchell Loewen said. "He really put all the burden on himself, took 100 percent blame. It is just something he has got to deal with now. He told me not to worry about it because it is something he has got to do. That's life."
Loewen said that his ascent to the top league in college football has been surreal. He is working hard to improve on the 7-17 record Arkansas has recorded the last two seasons after a Cotton Bowl appearance following the 2011 season.
"I feel like I was a different person back then," he said of his days in Lahaina. "My whole goal for coming out here was kind of to put Hawaii on the map. That was definitely one of my goals when I came out here - to make a name for myself and where I came from."
There is one big difference for Loewen in Fayetteville.
"There's no ocean," he said. "That's what I miss most. I mean, I miss seeing it, swimming in it, doing everything in it."
Loewen said the NFL is on his mind, but he will concentrate on Hogs football and his degree in small business management with a minor in marketing, for now.
"The NFL, you have to be amazingly good to even be considered to be a draft pick," he said. "The NFL is in the future. I feel like it is far off at times, sometimes I feel like it is not far off.
"I try not to worry about that. I just keep my head straight because after it's all said and done you have to have a degree to fall back on. I can't play football for the rest of my life. I have to keep every option open."
* Robert Collias is at firstname.lastname@example.org