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Leahey carries on family legacy as he takes over in UH football booth

Job comes with dose of sadness after passing of longtime friend Kekaula

Kanoa Leahey, already the voice of University of Hawaii volleyball, basketball and baseball, will be taking over play-by-play duties for UH football this fall. Photos courtesy of Kanoa Leahey

It comes with a dose of sadness, but Kanoa Leahey has reached the job he was seemingly born to do.

Leahey has added University of Hawaii football to his long list of play-by-play duties for the school, taking over for longtime friend and colleague Robert Kekaula, who died suddenly at age 55 last month.

“The circumstances are obviously less than ideal,” Leahey said Thursday. “It’s under some very difficult circumstances, the fact that we lost Robert Kekaula, lost him suddenly and far too soon. So, that, I guess, prompted the powers that be at Spectrum Sports to ask if I would take on that role. Obviously, even under less than ideal circumstances, it’s still a great honor.

“In fact, I think the humility that I feel is heightened by the fact that I am being asked to follow in the footsteps of someone like Robert Kekaula. He was just such a unique personality, such an incredible, undeniable presence. So there’s no replacing him, that’s for sure.”

Leahey, a longtime broadcaster, moved to Maui about nine years ago, but is busy much of the year traveling back and forth to Oahu and the Mainland because he already was the UH television voice for men’s and women’s volleyball, men’s and women’s basketball, and baseball.

Kanoa Leahey and broadcasting partner Chris McLaughlin pose for a photo during NCAA women’s volleyball tournament matches at the Stan Sheriff Center in 2019.

His father, Jim Leahey, was a longtime broadcaster for UH, most notably in football, basketball and baseball.

“I think my goal is just to try to carry the torch, if you will, honor (Kekaula’s) legacy by applying the same level of passion and effort for the craft that he did, for sure,” Kanoa Leahey said. “And that also goes for the many years — and dare we say decades — that my dad was calling University of Hawaii football on television. It’s sort of in that same vein and that same tradition, I’m just hoping to try to abide by some of the standards that those guys set.”

Chuck Leahey, Jim’s father and Kanoa’s grandfather, started the family business broadcasting UH football on the radio decades ago.

“He didn’t do it on television, it was more of the radio era, but yeah, he called UH football as well in addition to his high school football broadcasts,” Kanoa Leahey said of his grandfather. “One of the go-to catch phrases that he was known for that I still hear from some of the old-timers that I come across, they always recall his, ‘One manapua short’ of a first down or ‘third and a manapua to go.’ It was just the perfect illustration of distance and really hits close to home here in the islands and something that I think resonated with local people so much that, like I said, it’s still something that’s brought up to this day.”

Much of Kanoa’s summer has been spent on Oahu with his father, who retired in 2018. The license plate on Kanoa’s pickup truck refers to the family legacy.

“The significance of the lineage of my grandfather, my father and myself, that has not been lost on me throughout my career,” Kanoa Leahey said. “It’s something that has a lot of meaning to me and my goal is again try to live up to as much as possible to the standards set by the likes of Chuck Leahey and Jim Leahey. And even now, stepping into this position following Robert Kekaula, the same thing,

“I think that standard primarily is related to preparation and hard work and effort and research — just being as prepared as one can possibly be. And treating, not just the craft, but treating the athletes, the coaches, the programs themselves, like treating UH football with the level of respect and importance that it deserves. I think that’s the thing that I try to hold on to the most, is just how much the University of Hawaii athletic program meant to all of those guys.”

Adding football to the list of his UH duties — and Leahey also often does college basketball television for ESPN — will just add to his busy schedule for the academic calendar year in Manoa.

The year annually kicks off with the two highest profile sports for Hawaii, women’s volleyball and football.

“It wouldn’t be the only time in the season where there are multiple sports that run concurrently and the Spectrum schedule is still being finalized, so we’re not 100 percent sure exactly how one will affect the other, but I think there’s a chance that perhaps I might be on the road with football during a weekend where Wahine volleyball is at home,” Leahey said. “There would be obviously some changes made accordingly.”

Leahey, like everyone, is waiting to see what the broadcast world will turn out to be after the dust settles from the COVID-19 pandemic. Many play-by-play broadcasts were done remotely during the pandemic and that may not change all the way back to the old norm.

Leahey and former Baldwin High School standout athlete Jordan Helle are still producing episodes of their “Let’s Talk Sports with Kanoa Leahey and Jordan Helle” podcast, which features local sports figures.

Leahey will be joined in the football booth by former UH player, assistant coach and NFL veteran Rich Miano, who will be the color commentator.

“The pandemic, it brought about so much change, that everything is still being worked out as to how far the return is to pre-pandemic production and scheduling and all that,” he said. “I think that’s still a work in progress.”

* Robert Collias is at rcollias@mauinews.com.

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