MIL seniors take to field for Life Champion Bowl

PUKALANI — The high school football careers of 15 Maui Interscholastic League seniors will come to an end on Saturday in the Senior Life Champion Bowl at King Kekaulike Stadium.

Seven players from Division II state champion Lahainaluna High School, three from Kamehameha Maui, two from Baldwin and one each from Maui High, Hana and Lanai will play in the fifth annual senior all-star game that is being held on Maui for the first time.

Kickoff is set for noon.

“Our first two years were on the Big Island, our last two years have been on Kauai and this year we’re on Maui,” game organizer Keala Pule said. “When we were setting this up we set it up just for the Big Island because that’s where we’re from. Things didn’t work out exactly the way we wanted it to, so that’s why we opened it up to the outer islands and excluded Oahu because that time (Oahu) had their own bowl.

“They (eventually) dropped the Oahu bowl, so we thought, ‘Hey, this is a great chance to bring together all the islands. … Every island has been represented in this event.”

The game’s head coaches are former Kahuku head coach Reggie Torres and current Waianae head coach Walter Young.

The list of Maui County players is filled with MIL All-Stars from several other sports, including football.

Lahainaluna will be represented by Etuati Storer, Nyles Pokipala-Waiohu, Viliami Hafoka, Ikaika Viela, Apakasi Felemi, Elijah Oliveira-Kalalau and Pablo Rico (who will sit out with an injury); Tristan Catan, Jayden Delatori and Dane Abarra from Kamehameha Maui; Bishop Wickes and Kili Madrid from Baldwin; Kymani Sombelon from Maui High; Hana’s Keoki Hoopai-Waikoloa; and Lanai’s Naighel Calderon.

College coaches from Pacific University, George Fox and Willamette in Oregon, Colorado Mesa and Adams State (Colo.), Whitworth (Wash.), Buena Vista University (Iowa) and Golden West Junior College (Calif.) are here for the game, which has a focus on helping athletes navigate the road to college.

“We have 13 college coaches in attendance at the event,” Pule said. “They are here to recruit Hawaii and help our families through the process. Every campus is unique, they have different strategies of helping these kids.”

The first practice was held Wednesday, two more were held Thursday and two more are set for today. The colleges here also have held sessions with the players to show them part of the recruitment and admission process.

“(Tonight) we are going to have an ohana night, this year is going to be more like a college fair for the kids,” Pule said.

To be eligible for the game, players must have a 2.8 cumulative grade-point average or be an NCAA qualifier, has taken or is scheduled to take the SAT or ACT, have recommendations from their high school head coach and a school administrator, and have performed at least eight hours of community service in 2018.

“The coaches have done a great job because we do have an academic criteria they need to meet in order to secure their spot on our roster,” Pule said.

A community service project Upcountry involving the players was held Thursday.

“Every year our kids go out into the community and do some community service,” Pule said. “They give back to the community that has taken care of them.”

Sponsors of the game include Marcus Mariota’s Motiv8 Foundation, Maui Linen Supply, MPAL, Maui Police Department, Meadow Gold and Pepsi.

After referrals for the game are received, videos of the players are watched and invitations to qualified players are sent out — Saturday’s game will include 95 players, according to Pule. Unofficial school transcripts must be turned in to show that the players are at least near achieving NCAA eligibility.

A draft involving the head coaches is held to decide the rosters.

“It’s a jun-ken-po kind of moment,” Pule said. “They may get the first pick at quarterback, but then they get the second pick at running back, and so on.”

* Robert Collias is at rcollias@mauinews.com.

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