Before Ikaika Malloe's arrival as UW's defensive-line coach, the Huskies went five years without landing a single recruit from Hawaii. Now the Huskies are poised to sign five of the islands' biggest and best prospects.
The flight from Hawaii to Seattle was a long one. Nearly seven years later, Psalm Wooching remembers it well.
Wooching made the overnight trip with another one of Hawaii’s top high-school football recruits at the time, Luke Kaumatule. They slept for part of the six-hour flight. They played their ukuleles for a while — “just jamming,” as Wooching put it.
And when they landed in Seattle that January morning in 2012, they experienced something unfamiliar: snow.
“That was a pleasant surprise,” Wooching said.
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So too was Wooching’s experience during his two-day visit to the University of Washington, and a familiar “feeling of community” helped convince him to sign with the Huskies a few weeks later. He was one of three recruits from Hawaii who signed with the Huskies in the 2012 class (Kaumatule wound up signing with Stanford), and Wooching would go on to become a starting outside linebacker on the Huskies’ 2016 Pac-12 championship team.
Now a member of the USA Rugby National Team, Wooching still keeps close tabs of the Huskies, and in particular how the Huskies are recruiting in his home state.
After going five years without signing a single recruit from Hawaii, the Huskies are expected to sign five of the islands’ best — and biggest — recruits when college football’s early signing period begins Wednesday, re-establishing Washington’s roots as the destination for Hawaii’s top football players.
No Pac-12 Conference school over the past 15 years has signed more than three of Hawaii’s top-20 recruits in any one class.
Wooching credits Ikaika Malloe, a former Husky safety from Waimanalo, Hawaii, who returned to UW in 2016 to coach the defensive line.
“Islanders love to go where other Islanders are,” Wooching said. “A huge part of it is Coach Ikaika. Right away, those kids are going to feel attached to him, because he’s the same blood, he’s from the same area.
“Trust, respect and honor — those are such a huge thing in the island culture. And to have a coach who understands that, (who) can express that in the same way, it’s like a having another father or uncle. Ikaika already ‘gets’ these kids, and he gets them juiced up to come to Washington.”
Two of Hawaii’s biggest recruits are in Seattle this weekend. Honolulu defensive tackles Faatui Tuitele and Sama Paama, both of whom made earlier public commitments to the Huskies, flew into Seattle late this week for their official visits to the UW campus.
There is no snow in the forecast this weekend, but Wooching said there “is definitely a snowball effect” when recruiting Hawaii: The more players you have from Hawaii, the easier it is to get more.
Along with Tuitele and Paama, the Huskies have commitments from offensive lineman Julius Buelow (Kapolei), outside linebacker Miki Ah You (Kahuku) and kicker Timothy Horn (Honolulu).
With Tuitele and Paama, along with defensive tackles Jacob Bandes (Pittsburg, Calif.) and Noa Ngalu (Menlo Park, Calif.), and end Bralen Trice (Glendale, Ariz.), the Huskies have put together perhaps their best defensive-line recruiting class ever, and those recruits anchor a group that 247Sports.com ranked Friday the No. 1 class in the Pac-12 and No. 10 nationally.
Malloe is graded by 247Sports.com as the top recruiter in the Pac-12.
The Huskies’ recruiting efforts are aided by UW’s strong Polynesian community. Each spring, Pacific Islander students celebrate “Poly Day” on campus, and earlier this year the university formally introduced a new minor program, called Oceania and Pacific Islander Studies, in which students can “learn about the histories and contemporary cultures of Oceania.”
Malloe said he takes “a lot of pride” in recruiting Hawaii. When he came to Seattle as a walk-on in 1992, he was following in the footsteps of quarterback Duane Akina (1976-78), linebacker Al Tufono and offensive lineman Siupeli Malamala (1988-91), among others who came from the islands to play for the Huskies.
“In Hawaii, the Huskies were the No. 1 team in the Pac-10 back then,” Malloe said.
Among other Husky legends from Hawaii: linebacker Ricky Andrews (1985-88), center Bern Brostek (1986-89), linebacker Ink Aleaga (1994-96), center Olin Kreutz (1995-97), defensive end Daniel Te’o-Nesheim (2006-09) and defensive end Hau’oli Kikaha (2010-2014).
But after Wooching’s class in 2012, it took the Huskies another five years to land another Hawaii recruit, until linebacker Zion Tupuola-Fetui signed last year.
During his initial job interview with Chris Petersen in late 2015, Malloe and the UW head coach agreed that they needed to make Hawaii a priority again.
“Ikaika has a lot to do with it,” Petersen said. “Anywhere you’re going to go back into after a lag period, it just takes a minute. You can’t just go in and say, ‘Here we are!’ So it’s been a few years coming. I think it’s a natural fit with Seattle and the Polynesian community here and the proximity to the islands here. There’s no place that’s really closer. Just all those things. That’s why I think there was a good pipeline in the past.”
Petersen and Malloe traveled to Hawaii for a recruiting trip last week, and the Huskies are already considered a favorite to land two of Hawaii’s top prospects in the Class of 2020: linebackers Jordan Botelho and Nick Herbig, both of whom are teammates of Tuitele’s at the Honolulu powerhouse St. Louis School.
“I love getting local guys from Hawaii. I’ve just got to make sure they fit our program and what Coach Pete is all about,” Malloe said. “It’s all about fit, and that’s what Coach Petersen preaches. I think the culture there fits our culture.
“There’s a family environment — the idea to keep pushing the person to get better. And Hawaii really values that. I think that’s what ringing out loud over there. And obviously me being from there, in their mind they have one of their own here.”