The day Jarrin Kalama boarded a plane and headed to the Wasatch Mountains of Utah, all there was to hold on to was hope.
More than hope. Waiting for him was an uncle. Auntie. Cousins. All bunched together in a house, in a town called Heber City. It is 21 degrees there right now.
Back in July, however, Kalama was on that plane, a Mililani junior transferring to Wasatch High School. New town. New friends. New culture. New teammates. New coach.
The 6-foot-3, 195-pound wide receiver embraced his choice. The Wasps went 8-3, reaching the semifinals of the Utah 5A state championships. Kalama emerged as a playmaker with 62 receptions for 725 yards and 11 touchdowns. On top of those numbers, he has a 3.1 grade-point average.
The season ended a month ago. As the fall semester wound down, Kalama debated whether to move back to Hawaii along with his younger brother and a cousin, Tausili Akana of Kamehameha. Akana, a sophomore, has 10 scholarship offers, including a new one from recently crowned Pac-12 Conference champion Oregon.
Kalama’s patience paid off. Last week, his first offer arrived. BYU, one of the Utah’s in-state FBS programs, made its interest official. Head coach Kalani Sitake was part of the connection line.
“Coach Sitake kept in touch for about a week,” Kalama said. “Right now, I just want to enjoy the moment. I’ve worked really hard this past year and it’s nice to finally be recognized by coaches at the next level. I am very grateful for BYU’s offer. However, I definitely want to keep my options open and focus on my senior year. There’s plenty of room for improvement and I need to get stronger and faster.”
BYU was ranked as high as No. 16 in this abbreviated, COVID-19 impacted season. The Cougars (11-1) routed UCF 49-23 at the Boca Raton Bowl on Tuesday.
Looking back, a strange new world sparked Kalama into making unprecedented decisions that pulled him away from a comfort zone. Oahu Interscholastic Association powerhouse Mililani normally fields a roster deep with talented pass catchers.
“Being away from my parents was a learning experience, but at least I had my aunty (Joleen Akana) and uncle (Stanton Akana) who made us feel at home. Definitely would recommend it, but you need some type of support structure to help you through the entire process,” Kalama said.
“Of course, having my younger brother La‘a and cousin Tausili made the transition that much easier as we were able to support each other and have an opportunity to play on the same team which would never had happen in Hawaii since they both were at Kamehameha.”
The technical aspect of learning a new system could have slowed Kalama’s progress. Instead, he prospered.
“Wasatch ran a spread offense similar to Mililani, so adjusting wasn’t too difficult. Being able to run efficient routes and get separation gave me an advantage over the other players. I felt that I could win the one-on-one battles, and if they wanted to stop me they had to double team me.”
There were a small number of island student-athletes who moved to the continent to get a season under their belts. To get game footage. To ensure a chance to improve their prospects as college recruits.
“Looking back at the situation, I’m glad my parents decided to give us the opportunity to play in Utah. No one knew the status of football in Hawaii at that time, but my parents had a gut feeling that Hawaii wasn’t ready to deal with the COVID-19 crisis. As it turns out it was the best decision we made. I really believe being in Utah and playing at Wasatch gave me a different level of exposure,” Kalama said.
Then, there is baseball. Unlike his cousin, Akana, who flew home and will return to Kamehameha for spring semester, Kalama is on the fence. Kalama will not be eligible to play football if and when Hawaii has a season this spring, but it’s his second sport that is up in the air.
“Still not sure whether I will play baseball in Utah or go back to Hawaii. My family and I are looking at all the options,” he said. “As it stands now, winter and spring sports are not looking promising at home.”