In the end, if this is so, Kaeo Akana’s selection process was never about branding.
In fact, Akana’s oral commitment to Boise State was all about home. The right fit. When the Roosevelt football standout committed to the Broncos on Saturday, he joined a second family — and spurned a host of Pac-12 offers. In all, he has 16 scholarship offers.
“To me, it doesn’t matter. Football is football. It doesn’t matter what conference you’re in or how big your school is,” said Akana, who will be a senior this fall. “What matters is what fits me.”
The 6-foot-3, 210-pound defensive end projects as an edge playmaker. He plans to gain 20 pounds by the time he begins college, but it won’t be at the expense of speed.
“I want to play at 230, maybe 235 or 240. I want to be able to still be fast. The game’s all about speed and technique now. You need a little power,” Akana said. “(Boise State) sometimes has the outside linebacker come to the line and it’s a 4-3. Or three down linemen in a 3-4. You’ve got to be able to pass rush and be able to drop.”
The commitment came at the tail end of a Rocky Mountain adventure for Akana and his parents, Kip and Darlene. It began with an unofficial visit to Hawaii, followed by a long first-leg voyage to, followed by a flight to Colorado.
“On Tuesday, we flew up (to Las Vegas) on the red eye. My unofficial visit was on Wednesday,” he said. “On Thursday, we woke up at 4 a.m. to fly to Boulder. Both visits were good. We met the head coaches. I liked both schools. The visits are all day long. It was worth it.”
Then came a 5 a.m. flight to Boise on Friday. When they arrived in Boise, Akana was not expecting to make a commitment to first-year Broncos head coach Andy Avalos anytime soon.
“It was probably a 5-percent chance. I was going to wait until whatever was the latest I could commit,” he said of the third of his unofficial visits. “It’s a five-minute drive to the school from the airport. They drove us through the campus. The coaches had a barbecue with the team.”
Akana met with former Kahuku standout Kekaula Kaniho, the Star-Advertiser all-state defensive player of the year in 2016.
“He likes it there and he said it feels like a family there. Family’s a big thing to us, so I like that. Him saying that, being from Hawaii, meant a lot,” Akana said.
As he did with the earlier visits, Akana spent the entire day with the coaching staff.
“My parents like the coaches. The coaches showed my family a lot of respect, and so did all of the schools, but I felt that connection to the Boise coaches,” he said.
One of those coaches is Keanu Yamamoto, a graduate assistant.
“He was recruiting me from Oregon, and they moved to Boise,” Akana said.
Though he hadn’t committed yet, the staff felt supremely confident. According to another recent Boise State commit, Keenan McCaddy of Moanalua, the coaches felt they had won over Akana by Friday night. That’s when McCaddy gave the Broncos his commitment by phone, and they told him about Akana’s successful visit.
The string of early-morning departures almost caught up with the Akanas.
“Our flight was at 5 a.m. We almost missed it. We were so exhausted,” Akana said. “We woke up late, missed the alarm and almost missed the flight.”
En route to the airport in Boise, he knew.
“I was sure after I left the hotel that morning. We were driving and I was thinking about it, and I told my parents,” he said.
After connecting to another flight in Los Angeles, the Akanas landed in Honolulu. The revised timeline of Akana’s decision was a stunner.
“I called them right when I got home,” Akana said. “My dad said it was up to me, and wherever I wanted to go to, they were all in. It was a good surprise.”
The routine hasn’t changed for Akana, who took a brief hiatus following a busy spring season in club football with the Trench Dawgz. Daily 5 a.m. runs in Pauoa Valley with former Roosevelt and TD teammate Jackie Johnson.
“On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, it’s sprints. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, we do a one-mile run. It’s training the mind to get up early and do something,” Akana said.
Akana does weight training with older brother Bubba and Johnson by 2 p.m. at Body Fix and trainer Marcus Kimura.
Roosevelt has conditioning workouts at 4 p.m.
In between workouts, Akana makes it a commitment to eat. He tanks a protein shake — Muscle Milk cookies and cream flavor — daily.
“It doesn’t taste like cookies and cream, but it gets the job done. The eating part matters. The protein shake is like a snack,” he said. “I eat a lot of rice and meat. Breakfast is always regular oatmeal with bananas. Just eat good and get results.”
The daily battles during Trench Dawgz one-on-ones taught him how to use his leverage against bigger, stronger offensive linemen.
“All that matters is how you play and how you are during a game. The mindset matters. It doesn’t matter how much you weigh or how strong you are. It’s about the mindset,” Akana said.
Yet, he is gong to pack on more muscle.
“You’ve got to be committed. Eating is a commitment. It’s almost a job. If you don’t feel the body, the body’s not going to grow,” he said.
Though the offers, phone calls and texts aren’t going to end soon, the commitment gives Akana a well-deserved chance to breathe. He feels quite grateful, too.
“Shout out to Coach Whit (Fehoko), Coach Jon (Kahooilihala), Coach Kui (Kahooilihala), Marcus and Kekoa (Young) at Body Fix, and my parents,” he said. “And everyone who supports me, too.”
Best of all, it’s about that fit. Boise feels just right.
“Honolulu is almost like Boise, but everything there is small. It’s a small-town feel. Nothing else around. The university and the residents around,” he said. “There’s a stream that runs three miles.”
Kaeo Akana, Roosevelt, DE, 6-3.5, 210
Washington State 5/6/20
Oregon State 9/17/20
San Diego State 1/29/21
Boise State 2/16/21
COMMITTED Boise State 6/19/21