KAHULUI – Keelan Ewaliko didn’t have to pull a hat from a line-up in front of him. He didn’t have to keep his college destination secret. He didn’t have to do anything but smile.
Baldwin High School’s do-everything quarterback signed a national letter of intent this morning at The Dunes at Maui Lani clubhouse to play football at the University of Hawaii.
“Just a little shocked, taken back a little bit,” Ewaliko said moments into a press conference for the signing. “It’s an honor, a privilege to be able to get offered one of these scholarships. I just want to make my name known, make my family proud, and make everyone on Maui proud.”
Ewaliko is just the second Maui Interscholastic League athlete to sign an NLI for football at Hawaii, following Maui High School’s Robert Kemfort in 1996.
The original plan was for him to greyshirt – delay enrollment to January 2014 to save five seasons to play four – but he received an early-morning call from coach Norm Chow saying plans had changed.
“When I got the call this morning, I was shocked, I was, like, ‘Wow, this is really happening, I don’t have to greyshirt, I can just come on in and play football for the team I always wanted to play for,’ ” Ewaliko said. “(Chow) just said, ‘It’s up to you, you know, I feel you’re ready.’ He said when he first recruited me, I was about 160 (pounds) and when he came back a few weeks ago, he was a little taken back on how big I have gotten in such a short time.
“Right now I’m about 180 and he said he wants me to be 180, 185 when I start playing. When he found that things kind of happened where there’s open spots on the team, he told me the first guy I thought of was me. ‘I have got to call Keelan, he’s going to be excited to hear about this.’ “
Two other MIL athletes signed NLIs on Wednesday.
Baldwin soccer player Pelemarie Buika signed to play at NCAA D-I Colorado College.
“I am blessed to be recognized from our small island of Maui to play for a top collegiate program,” she said. “Colorado College is my dream come true. From the bottom of my heart, I thank all my coaches, teachers, teammates, and my parents for your support throughout the years.”
Kamehameha Maui offensive lineman Dylan Nakoa signed to play at D-II Notre Dame College of Ohio at a ceremony on Oahu.
Ewaliko was surprised that he is one of two UH football scholarship signees out of the MIL.
“It hits me hard, only the second guy,” he said. “Maui has had who knows how many great athletes. To be the second is pretty cool, it makes me feel special.”
He pointed to current Cleveland Browns linebacker Kaluka Maiava as a pioneer when he signed with Southern Cal out of Baldwin in 2005.
“Kaluka, he opened the door a little bit,” Ewaliko said. “As more athletes come, I feel like I did open a door. I hope I made it a little more known that no matter where you come from you have athletes who can play D-I football anywhere you go.”
Ewaliko is the first three-time Maui News MIL Offensive Player of the Year, he became the only player in league history to lead the league in passing, rushing and scoring in the same season his junior year, and is the reigning state 200-meter dash champion. As a sophomore he led the league in passing and as a senior, despite missing two games with an injury, he was the top rusher and scorer.
For his career, he was 22-0 against MIL foes as a starter, 197-for-379 passing for 2,503 yards and 36 touchdowns with 17 interceptions, and rushed for 1,815 yards and 26 touchdowns on 211 carries, an average of 8.6 yards per carry.
Baldwin assistant coach Rodney Figueroa attended the event and said Ewaliko is among the best ever from the Valley Isle.
“We have had some good quarterbacks in the league, he is one of the best,” Figueroa said. “When I coached Maui High we had David Tufaga, who could run, throw, punt – he was a triple-threat. Keelan is that same mold – he can run, he can throw, he can kick, he can kick off. I think he is one of the best athletes ever, for sure.”
Ewaliko said it is unlikely he will be a full-time quarterback at UH, but he may line up there occasionally in the Wildcat formation. Other spots he could play are running back, wide receiver and safety.
“This kid played football, rides bulls, won the Makawao Rodeo bull-riding contest, I think he played soccer his first three years and then running track,” Figueroa said. “It’s big for coach Chow to reach out and realize there are good athletes on the Neighbor Islands, especially on Maui. There are a lot of kids who could have gone to UH if they were recruited earlier in the process. Past coaching staffs didn’t reach out, so those kids are playing in the Pac-12, you got one playing in the SEC. We can play here in the MIL.”
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