Northwestern football has a tradition established in 2011 of giving the No. 1 jersey for the season to a deserving student-athlete.
This year’s recipient of that jersey is Chad Hanaoka a 2014 ‘Iolani alumnus who made his on-field debut for the Wildcats in the 2016 Outback Bowl as a redshirt freshman against Tennessee.
A 5-foot-6 senior running back, Hanaoka joined Northwestern in the fall of 2014 as a walk-on to the football team, but because he took so long to get admitted to the school, the Wildcats had already reached their roster limit.
Instead of practicing with the team on the field, Hanaoka used the time to become a member of the video staff for his first year, taking videos of practices and games, hoping to earn his shot the following year.
He did exactly that, becoming a member of the team, and despite getting little playing time over the past three seasons, Hanaoka remains an important part of the Wildcats.
Enough so that he was given the honor on Tuesday of wearing No. 1 this season.
“The No. 1 jersey, in our program, is used to recognize the young man who truly embodies the values and character of the Northwestern football family,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said in a press release. “It is worn by someone who consistently dedicates himself as a great teammate, an excellent student and an influential member of our community. It is more than a flashy number, here it represents a way of life. Chad started his Wildcats career as an intern in our video office, and is an absolute testament to the power of perseverance. He is beloved by his teammates, and brings a positive attitude every day in everything he does.”
Hanaoka got just one carry and one punt return last season but earned Academic All-Big Ten honors. He is majoring in biological sciences, with a concentration in molecular & developmental neurobiology, and is also the Vice President of Northwestern’s Uplifting Athletes chapter and the founder and president of NU’s Wishmakers, supporting the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
“The jersey represents so much more than just me. It’s the legacy of the incredible players and even better people who wore the jersey before me,” Hanaoka said in a press release. “It’s this team, this family, that embraced a kid from Hawaii and truly became my ‘ohana, celebrating with me in times of triumph and laughter and lifting me up in times of hardship. To them, I owe it all.”
The Wildcats, who have had three straight winning seasons and are 27-12 over that span, open the 2018 campaign at Purdue on Aug. 30.