Keelan Ewaliko: MIL Athlete of the Year
The future has begun for Keelan Ewaliko.
The past, however, is something to behold.
Ewaliko graduated from Baldwin High School last month as a three-time Maui Interscholastic League Offensive Player of the Year in football and a five-time state champion in track and field, unprecedented accomplishments in MIL lore.
Today, he stands as The Maui News MIL Boy Athlete of the Year for 2012-13.
“It kind of surprises me to be recognized as one of the top guys,” Ewaliko said via telephone from Oahu on Tuesday, after his first day as a scholarship member of the University of Hawaii football team. “It’s an honor and a privilege and I’m humbled to be Athlete of the Year. It’s just another example of hard work and determination to the sport.”
In his junior season in football, Ewaliko led the league in passing and rushing, another MIL first. Last season, the quarterback again topped the league in rushing yards.
His two straight state titles in the 200-meter dash and the 400 relay, plus his win in the 100 this year, led Baldwin to the first back-to-back team crowns for a Neighbor Island school – in his only two seasons competing in the sport.
Mix in a leg that has 50-yard range on field goals, plus bull-riding skills that have earned a Makawao Rodeo open title, and one starts to realize the full package the 6-foot-1, 180-pound Ewaliko delivers.
“You have got to look at Shane Victorino when you look overall at what (Ewaliko’s) body of work is,” said Baldwin defensive coordinator Rodney Figueroa, making an analogy to the Boston Red Sox right fielder, who was a three-time state track champion as a St. Anthony senior in 1999. “Shane went from football to soccer to baseball and would go run track after that. Keelan, with just walking on to track (as a junior), I know (Gary) Sanches’ guys wanted him from his sophomore year.
“And his love of rodeo, (Ewaliko) really wanted to do that rodeo stuff after football season, but he looked at track and said, ‘Hey, I want to go out and try that, challenge this, take the challenge of running track.’ “
Sanches likened Ewaliko to Victorino as well – and to Bob Seagren, the 1968 Olympic pole vault champion and silver medalist in 1972.
“Seagren is such a good all-around athlete that he could do a multiple of things other than just pole vault – he ran the 400 relay, did some sprinting, just very versatile like Shane was,” Sanches said. “Keelan reminds me of that kind of kid. In football, he basically can play defensive back, receiver, who knows, maybe even as a QB. You don’t know what UH’s plans are.”
Ewaliko said he had been slated to enroll at Hawaii in January before coach Norm Chow watched the state track and field meet and told Ewaliko he wanted him right away as a wide receiver, slotback and kick returner. He is one of the local standouts in a 16-player freshman class, along with roommate Aofaga Wily, a running back from Kahuku, and defensive lineman Kennedy Tulimasealii of Waianae.
“I’m just very thankful that I get to play at a D-I school,” Ewaliko said. “I’m just here to make my family and my community proud.”
His freshman season will begin with a game against Southern California at Aloha Stadium on Aug. 29, followed by road games at Oregon State and Nevada.
“This ain’t little-boy games anymore, this is the real deal,” he said. “This is where the big boys play and where the big boys prepare. I just have to come out hard. . . . No holding back anymore.”
For a team coming off a 3-9 season, there is little time off – Ewaliko is taking two summer school classes, along with a three-hour study hall, and has workouts each weekday.
“Every snap counts, every one of us freshmen counts, just come out and you are part of the team now,” Ewaliko said.
Ewaliko said he and Wily spend their precious time away from studies and football trying to grasp precisely where they’ve landed.
“We talk about a lot of things, just, like, ‘Wow, we’re in college, we are playing D-I college football,’ ” Ewaliko said. “We are just one step closer to our dreams. College football is a dream.”
* Robert Collias is at email@example.com