He’s excited for the first shot. A little giddy, even.
“This,” Hau’oli Kikaha says, “is going to be fun.”
He takes a few steps back, then eagerly lunges forward, hurling and spinning his 252-pound body sideways over the 50-yard line, right on top of the imaginary quarterback.
A second try? Sure, he’s game. He hurries, hurls and pops up again. “How’d it look?” Washington’s junior defensive end asks.
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He takes a peek at the image from the digital camera. “How do I keep my mouth shut?” he wonders aloud.
OK, one last shot. The photographer repositions herself. She wants a better angle to see the face forgotten by many in and around Husky Stadium for the past two years.
Kikaha steps back one last time, pauses and pulls his long, dark hair out of his eyes and off his forehead. He’s ready for his moment again, and he promises to make it count this time.
HE WAS KNOWN as Hau’oli Jamora as a freshman in 2010. He started the final seven games that season, recording one sack and 3.5 tackles for loss in UW’s Holiday Bowl victory over Nebraska. The future was bright. Then, in UW’s Pac-12 Conference opener against California in late September 2011, he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.
Eager to get back on the field, he rushed his rehabilitation, then tore the same ligament while covering Austin Seferian-Jenkins on a wheel route during the first week of training camp in August 2012. He lay on the practice-field turf and prayed.
If nothing else, the prayers have brought him patience and perspective for his third shot on the field.
Football, Kikaha (pronounced KEY-kah-HA) has realized, won’t be around forever. His mother, Dawn Cockett, said her son first stated his dream of playing professional football when he was 3, and that dream remains.
His goals outside football are no less ambitious. Kikaha’s academic work in anthropology and ethnic studies have become a passion, too, and he is pondering graduate-school options. He wants to be a professor. He’s proud of his heritage — “He Hawai’i Au: I am Hawaiian,” he says — and he dreams of creating “a program” that will help reunite the people of the Pacific islands.
Dr. Holly Barker doesn’t doubt he can do it.
Barker, an anthropology department lecturer, helped lead a group of students — including Kikaha and two of his closest friends on the team, John Timu and Danny Shelton, among others — on a 10-day trip to Tahiti in June, and she remains a mentor for them.
“Hau’oli is one of the very smartest students I have ever had in all my years here,” she said. “And I’m not putting him in the category ‘as a football player’ — I mean everybody. The guy is brilliant. His academic potential is whatever he wants it to be.”
“HAU’OLI” MEANS “HAPPY” in Hawaiian, his mother explained. If her happy son is being honest, though, he was angry.
His last name is new now because Hau’oli never knew his father.
They didn’t meet until Hau’oli was 16, when he and his teammates on Kahuki High School’s judo team were competing in a tournament. Just before going to the tournament, an uncle told Hau’oli that the sensei for another team was also named Jamora — his father.
“Kind of shocking,” Kikaha said, looking back.
He said that his cultural passion now comes from a personal place of not knowing much about his family’s history growing up.
“I didn’t have that access to it,” he said. “It angered me that I didn’t have that access to it.”
His mother, Dawn, had raised Hau’oli and her two oldest sons, Kahiapo and Kila — Hau’oli’s half-brothers, 5 and 4 years older — on her own. As Hau’oli put it, “The struggle was real.”
He believes his brothers made great sacrifices for him, and they remain close — so close that Hau’oli has adopted their last name, Kaniaupio, as his middle name. He wants to make them, and the name, proud.
“I definitely am here because of them — and for them, and my mother,” he said. “Those three are really the reason I’m here. All I want to be here for is to take care of them one day. …
“If I was there (in Hawaii), I would be able to do something as a higher member in my household or family to help support everyone under us or close to us. So being here is a sacrifice and I gotta make the best of it. And if I don’t, I’m failing them.”
Hau’oli and his father have built a friendly relationship off that first meeting. Still, Hau’oli had toyed with the idea of changing his last name for “a while.” As his 21st birthday approached this past summer, he told his mother he planned to legally adopt a new last name.
She was “shocked” and “emotional,” but agreed to help. Dawn and her mother researched their genealogy and came up with two suggestions.
“He chose Kikaha — ‘to soar, to fly,’” she said. “And he is soaring in his life.”
HE’S MAKING THE MOST of this shot so far. With a new name and a new jersey number (8), Kikaha is again entrenched as a starter on the UW defensive line entering Saturday’s Pac-12 showdown with Arizona (3-0) at Husky Stadium. Last month, teammates voted him a captain, despite the fact that he hadn’t played in almost two years.
But he is, no doubt, starting to look like the precocious freshman from three years ago, before the two knee surgeries changed him and his perspective.
“I’m really close (to being 100 percent healthy),” he said.
In UW’s shutout of Idaho State on Saturday, Kikaha was credited with three of UW’s seven sacks, his first since Sept. 3, 2011.
“To finally have that rewarding moment was a good feeling — and short-lived, because we have to get on with our lives and the next play,” he said.
He’s happy, clearly. He’s finding himself and his culture, offering hope of a brighter future for both.
And if, every once in awhile, he finds his way to the quarterback, well, that’s reason to be excited, too.
Adam Jude: 206-464-2364 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter: @a_jude