On an empty football field, or a quiet basketball court, a 10-year-old boy grinds through each drill with complete focus.
The ladder footwork. The drop back. The spirals. His father watches quietly, occasionally directing him to the next obstacle. On the asphalt court, the cones are set. The son weaves through them. The ballhandling has improved, day after day, week after week. Early in the morning or late in the afternoon, they make the time.
Jared Manti Dudoit has learned to embrace the grind.
“Usually, I do it for my parents and just my confidence,” the Aliiolani Elementary School student said. “If I don’t want to work out, I still have to. I just go. It’s worth it.”
Month by month have passed by during the world’s worst health crisis in a century, but he has not stopped since the parks reopened.
The left-handed layup. A step-back 3. Crossovers and mid-range jumpers. Each is a work that requires precision, one that fifth-graders often lack. It is not art, not abstract and spontaneous like Pablo Picasso. It is honed, polished and retooled again and again, more like Paul Cézanne, the perfectionist artist. Three sessions each week, Jared — who goes by his middle name, Manti — gets his chance to refine.
Before school resumed for the fall semester, the workouts were often the only time he and his father were out of the house together. His mother, Linda, is his biggest supporter. Four years ago, Linda had surgery to remove a benign brain tumor. She receovered, and the family keeps their circle small. Manti keeps chugging along.
“Watching Manti’s workout videos reminds me of the 10,000-hour rule. There is a book called ‘The Outliers’ in which the author (Malcolm Gladwell) discusses that for someone to become a master of their craft, they must spend 10,000 hours working at it,” John Wright Jr. said.
Wright is a former Clemson football player, a defensive end who worked his way onto the team after walking on. He now operates the family real estate business and is a councilman in South Carolina.
“Seeing Manti as a fifth grader working towards his 10,000 hours so early makes me think of most great athletes that commit to working on their craft at a young age. It is so encouraging to see someone as young as him so committed to a dream and willing to work for it,” Wright said.
Wright met Manti’s family years ago in the islands. The Manti he remembers then was the same affable, sports-loving keiki. The daily workouts were yet to come. This fall, after watching a workout video that his dad, Nate Dudoit, had sent via text, Wright, a former assistant coach with the Tigers — gathered some Clemson gear and sent it to Honolulu.
Manti Dudoit now wears a bright orange T-shirt and shorts during workouts. Christmas came early this year.
“All I did was I worked out and my dad sent (video) clips of my stuff to the assistant coach for Clemson. Usually it’s me throwing or shooting or dribbling. I do a long walk (with dumbbells). Burpee jumps,” he said. “He sent three or four shirts. I have a hat. I think it was pretty generous for him to give me stuff.”
No games. No team practices. Just a boy and his ball. Having a tangible form of appreciation from someone outside his family circle was a pleasant surprise.
“He thinks I have the ability to become a really good football and basketball player. I haven’t talked to him. I know that he was on the D-line at Clemson. He was an assistant coach and now he’s on the City Council. I always thought Clemson was a national-championship contender. They’re always no losses or only one. They’re always successful. Maybe when the pandemic is over, we can visit,” he said. “Thank you to the Clemson coach, my parents, Heavenly Father.”
Wright sees a lot of himself in the youngster. There was a time when Wright was a kid, working out alongside his dad. John Wright Sr. is in the Clemson Hall of Fame.
“He used to take me to the gym early Saturday mornings and teach me how to work out. He always told me that he didn’t care what I did, but that whatever I chose to do that he expected me to give my all and do my very best at whatever it was,” Wright recalled. “I think a lot of who I am today is because of that.”
Nate Dudoit often works the night shift as head of security at a downtown condominium. While mom is at work during the day, Manti is in virtual classes while at his grandmother’s home. He and his father squeeze workouts in before Nate goes to work. They never expected Wright to send a thing, but the extra spark sure doesn’t hurt.
“It’s a gift of love,” said Dudoit, who played football, basketball and baseball at Saint Louis. “To take an interest in a fifth grader in Hawaii and share it with the coaches, it’s huge for Manti’s confidence, knowing that there’s people out there who are watching. If you put in 100-percent effort, a good work ethic and a good attitude, you never know who’s watching. If he wants to get better, he’s got to grind. Our motto is, ‘Slow feet don’t eat.’ He understands. He knows that to get to a level, it takes hard work. To play at Kalaepohaku, it’s going to take a lot of effort, a lot of grit.”
Manti’s interest in sports goes back to his earliest years. He is a big Pittsburgh Steelers fan. His mom and dad have found an effective balance between sports and schoolwork.
“As parents, we have to be dialed in and invested in his academics. College coaches won’t invest in someone who doesn’t have the grades. So we started him now so he exceeds the academics he needs in high school and college as a student-athlete,” Nate Dudoit said.
Manti enjoys video games, too, but that is lower on the list of priorities.
“My grades are pretty good,” he said. “If you want to play sports, that’s the No. 1 goal. I’m too young to think about college, but if I didn’t study, I’d be disappointed in myself.”
Wright also has great hopes for Manti. At one time as a boy, he just wanted to play football. Now, he impacts his community.
“My advice to any young kid is to dream big, believe in yourself, and work as hard as you possibly can to accomplish that dream. A lot of things in this world, we can’t control, but two things we can control are our attitude and our effort,” he said. “Give great attitude and great effort in everything that you do and you will be successful.”