When Kainoa Wilson first stepped foot on campus at Washington State for his freshman year, he was surprised at the flat lands that seem to lead directly into Pullman, Wash.
“I thought the whole state of Washington looked like Seattle,” he said.
The 2015 Mililani alumnus said he took a leap of faith when he was accepted into the school and given an opportunity to walk-on by then-assistant coach Joe Salavea.
He played in exactly three games in his first three years, but his dedication and his unwavering desire to become an integral part of the Cougars has led him to one of the biggest college football games of the season.
Washington State, ranked No. 8, hosts No. 16 Washington in the Apple Cup on Friday. A spot in the Pac-12 championship game and a potential berth in the Rose Bowl, or maybe even an outside shot at the College Football Playoff, are all on the line.
The Cougars are 10-1 overall but have not fared well in recent years against the Huskies, who would advance to the Pac-12 title game with a win over WSU.
UW has won five straight in the series and eight of the last nine. The last three victories are by a combined score of 131-41.
“Just trying to keep it rolling, you know, one week at a time,” Wilson said, downplaying the magnitude of one of the biggest games in the 118-year history of the Apple Cup. “I’m just real excited that we got a special thing going here.”
Wilson was one of McKenzie Milton’s favorite targets in 2013, when he led the Trojans with 622 receiving yards and helped them advance to the state final before losing to Punahou.
Injuries limited Wilson during his senior season, but he still managed to catch eight touchdown passes in six games, including two in a wild 53-45 win over the Buffanblu to win the Trojans’ first state championship.
He’s only caught two passes in college, but he’s made his mark on special teams this season. His nine tackles on kick coverage leads the team and he scored his first career touchdown when he recovered a fumble in the end zone in a 69-28 win over Arizona on Saturday.
Wilson also forced a fumble and had three tackles in that game.
“It’s super exciting for me,” Wilson said. “I would love to be out there (all the time) but that one opportunity I get, I go full speed every time and I give everything I got to my boys for that one play that I’m out there. You make the most of it because you never know how many plays you will get in a game.”
For more on Wilson and the Cougars’ Apple Cup showdown with the Huskies, check out the Star-Advertiser’s Hawaii Grown feature here.