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Giant leap: Krau to attend prestigious IMG Academy

At just 15 years old, offensive lineman from Wailuku stands 6-foot-5, tips scales at 283 pounds

Kaholi Krau trains at Vernon Patao’s HI Performance Athletics gym in the Maui Lani industrial area Tuesday. Krau, a 15-year-old offensive lineman from Wailuku, is set to leave next month for his freshman year at IMG Academy, a prestigious sports prep school in Florida. J. Patao Photography photos

WAILUKU — As Kaholi Krau stood next to Vernon Patao on Tuesday afternoon in front of Patao’s HI Performance Athletics gym, it was hard to tell who was the 15-year-old and who was the two-time U.S. Olympic weightlifter.

Krau, who recently finished eighth grade at Iao Intermediate School, will leave for IMG Academy next month — he learned of his acceptance to the prestigious sports prep school last week.

Wailuku native and former Baldwin High School offensive lineman Miki Fifita attended IMG Academy for the 2015 season as a senior before playing in college at Oregon State, but Krau is headed to the Bradenton, Fla., school as a freshman, a rare feat for a Maui athlete in any sport.

“I’m very excited because like you were saying earlier, you can’t recall anyone ever going to IMG (from Maui) for any other sport, so this is insane for me,” Krau said. “I’m very excited. That sounds amazing, a lot of pressure, but yeah, I can live up to that.”

Krau, who is currently 6-foot-5, 283 pounds, has been playing football for about 10 years and has always been big for his age.

Vernon Patao (left) stands next to Kaholi Krau on Tuesday. Krau has worked with Patao, a two-time Olympic weightlifter, for about two years.

“I love the sport, I usually play offensive line, I like it, I’m good at hitting people,” Krau said with a sly smile. “That’s a plus side. … Since I’ve been in kindergarten, I’ve always been a giant.”

It took a while to give up the dreams of being a quarterback, wide receiver or running back, but Krau is now laser-focused on being an offensive lineman.

“I started accepting it a few years ago because, hey, I can’t run or catch, but I can push these people away from my quarterback,” he said. “That’s when I figured out that I’m an offensive lineman. I really like being an offensive lineman, just protecting my team, making my team happy.”

Krau has been attending camps on the Mainland during the summer months for several years — he nearly decided to attend Lipscomb Academy in Tennessee where Trent Dilfer, who won a Super Bowl as the quarterback for the Baltimore Ravens, is the coach.

“There was this other school that wanted me for high school,” Krau said. “I went to their football camp and they just like swarmed around me, and said, ‘Wow, how old are you and where are you from? We never see you in this area.’ I said, ‘I’m from Hawaii,’ and they’re like, ‘Wow, you’re from Hawaii.’ They just started staying in contact, but we ended up choosing IMG.”

Kaholi Krau squats while training at HI Performance Athletics on Tuesday.

Krau discussed the decision with his parents Nick Krau and Staycie Kaholi, and IMG emerged as the one that would get his services.

“My mom and I went there to tour it and it was pretty cool,” Kaholi Krau said of his visit to the IMG campus in October.

The final acceptance letter arrived last Friday.

“I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m going to this school,’ “ Kaholi Krau said. “I’m, like, super stoked.”

Krau is the oldest of five Krau children — his father said Kaholi’s biggest fan is his 4-year-old sister Brilee.

Kaholi Krau is aware of the opportunity he has in front of him.

“I take a lot of pride because I can make Hawaii look good,” he said. “And I plan on doing that. They’ll be, like, ‘Where are you from? Oh, Hawaii — that’s amazing, we’ll look for more kids like that there.’ “

Krau has worked with Patao at his gym in the Maui Lani industrial area for about two years. Before that he worked with noted Maui trainers Lawrence Kauhaahaa and Val Patao, Vernon Patao’s brother.

“That’s insane, working with a former Olympian,” Krau said. “And he’s very nice. He’s made me way stronger, I’ve improved so much since I started in this weightlifting program.”

Vernon Patao stands about 10 inches shorter than his 15-year-old protege.

“Well, his improvement over the last couple of years has been substantial,” Patao said. “The thing is we haven’t been working on him getting stronger, so the potential for him to get stronger, faster is leaps and bounds because he hasn’t really matured. No facial hair yet, that’s a great thing.

“We’re working on his movements and his agility, so as far as his potential with his athleticism, he looks pretty damn good.”

Krau has to be in Bradenton by July 14.

“I’m going to miss home a lot, but I will probably be able to come back during the breaks,” he said. “Or maybe a little bit during the summer, so I’m not too worried.”

He has high goals in mind.

“Oh, I’m definitely aiming for the NFL, the highest level I can get,” Krau said.

* Robert Collias is at rcollias@mauinews.com.

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