Independence: Liloa Kapiko makes most of 2nd chance

Saint Louis defensive lineman Liloa Kapiko (45) and linebacker Kila Kamakawiwoole (1) sacked Narbonne quarterback Ashley Tucker Jr. in this 2018 game. Photo by Jamm Aquino/Star-Advertiser.

Liloa Kapiko is making the most of his time in the midwest this fall.

The former Saint Louis defensive end graduated in 2019 and went to San Diego State, and his journey of ups and downs nearly ended his football career.

Kapiko is now at Independence Community College in Kansas. Even though football season was postponed to early 2021, the 6-foot-5, 260-pound Kapiko received a scholarship offer from Northern Iowa on Friday.

“Coach Bryce (Paup), the D-line coach, he knows what’s going on with me. I told him everything, what’s going on,” said Kapiko, who is candid and transparent about his rocky voyage.

He began high school at Lahainaluna, where he once caught a pass and broke four tackles for a game-winning touchdown against Maui in a junior-varsity game. He was a 6-3 freshman.

“That was my first year of football. I was holding it like a rugby ball. I wasn’t even holding it correctly,” he said of his rare stint as a wide receiver.

Kapiko transferred to Roosevelt in the second semester of freshman year. Then he attended Saint Louis.

“I was on the varsity team, but I didn’t play. I got into trouble and went back to Roosevelt,” he said.

He attended summer school at Saint Louis, was re-evaluated and admitted back in. He played his junior and senior years without a hitch. The solution was an uncle, Manuwai Kapiko.

“I moved in with my uncle and his family. He had five daughters, so he called me his only son. I gave up a lot of what I used to do on my free time, like going out with my friends a lot. I used to act up and talk back to my parents and after awhile parents can’t do anything. But I was always scared of my uncle. He was well known where I’m from, Papakolea. My stepdad and mom just didn’t know what to do with me. I was learning and I still am now.”

Looking back, it was avoidable.

“I regret giving my parents a hard time, but I don’t regret having to live with my uncle. My parents and I got closer, too,” Kapiko said.

He landed a scholarship offer from SDSU and entered freshman year as a 6-5, 233-pound recruit. He had friends from Hawaii on the team and hung out with them often. He was also homesick, and testing the waters as an adult.

“The coaches were awesome. They tried to help me a lot. They’re awesome people, too. I got into trouble. I was doing stuff that I shouldn’t be doing,” Kapiko said. “I was fighting in the dorms. I wasn’t in the right state of mind. I was drinking a lot and fighting. All my coaches were trying to help me get through it. I was selfish trying to do everything I could myself, and it didn’t work out the way I wanted.”

The school suspended him, and he lived off campus for awhile before returning to Hawaii a month into the new year. He worked full time as a beach runner, opening umbrellas and setting up chairs on Waikiki Beach.

“I wasn’t planning on going back to school, but I knew it would make my family happy,” he said. “When I went back home after getting kicked out of San Diego State, that’s when I changed. That’s not how you want to go home, knowing your family knows you messed up. My mom (Erin Kapiko), my family kept me in check. After work, I’m straight home every day.”

Kapiko paid rent at home. He also paid for auto insurance. After the COVID-19 pandemic forced a lockdown across the state, he was at a new job, as a cultural monitor. He picked up the phone.

“I was, screw it, I might as well enter the transfer portal,” he said.

He phoned SDSU.

“I talked to a lady, Miss Megan (Taormina),” he recalled. “An hour after that, schools started calling me back. My Twitter was blowing up again like senior year. I was surprised. I didn’t know it was going to happen like that.”

Within a week, coaches at Independence began to reach Kapiko.

“It was (head) coach (Kiyoshi) Harris and coach (Ben) Saunders,” Kapiko said.

He turned down another JUCO powerhouse, Garden City (Kan.).

“Everything (Harris) said was true,” Kapiko said.

He arrived at Independence in July and is now in a dorm at Independence with some of the coaching staff nearby.

Liloa Kapiko, third from left, has a new football family at Independence Community College in Kansas. From left: Mercy Matautia, Devon Bell, Kapiko, Chavez Jenkins, Prince Boyd, Javier Duran, assistant coach Keith Donerson. Kneeling: Drake Bradley.
Photo courtesy of Liloa Kapiko.

“They always check up on me,” he said. “Coming here, I wanted to pay my own way, sit in first class. I saved up all my money from working. I flew from Honolulu to Texas, Texas to Tulsa, and the coaches picked me up in Tulsa. It’s an hour-and-a-half drive.”

Though there hasn’t been a single game, they have done plenty of conditioning with no helmets or pads.

“We’re going to have a few scrimmages. I know we have one on Nov. 14,” Kapiko said, noting that he has filled out since his freshman year.

If he winds up at Northern Iowa, he’s hoping for another clean slate.

“I hope they would treat me like how they treat anyone else. Coach Bryce realizes I did change a lot. Since San Diego State, my whole mindset is different. I know how I’m going to get what I want. I know what to do and what not to do. I don’t drink or anything like that anymore. I feel good since I stopped.”

He will graduate from Independence in May. He was already a qualifier out of high school. Now, Kapiko spends his free time learning how to play video games. Fortnite. Madden.

“I just started playing when I got here,” he said.

Lockdown staples
Top 3 movies/shows
1. “The Boys” on Amazon Prime. “It’s really funny. There’s not really a storyline, but it’s funny. It’s more of a comedy than action.”

2. “The Count of Monte Crisco.” “The message is, don’t give up on what you want. It’s really a rags-to-riches story. A guy who gets backstabbed, goes to prison, learns to read and fight, to write and do math. He becomes smart in prison. He breaks out of prison, finds treasure and becomes a count.”

3. “One Tree Hill.” “It’s on Hulu.”

4. “Vampire Diaries.” “I have a girlfriend, so I watch a lot with her.”

Top 3 foods/snacks/drinks

1. Meat jun and potato salad, Peppa’s. “They taste the same at all the Peppa’s.”

2. Lechon. “It’s kind of like a pork chop. It’s a type of pork. They have it at Asian (Flavors) or something like that at Ohana Marketplace.”

3. Oysters. “Any oysters, like from Safeway. My auntie (Nancy Kapiko) boils the oysters and we crack it and eat it with butter, tobacco and shoyu.”

Top 3 music artists

1. Common Kings.

2. Skillinjah.

3. Mike Love.

New life skills

Kapiko: “I had full-time jobs.”

Shout outs

Kapiko: “My parents, my uncle. Saint Louis, of course. The brotherhood, and all the coaches here at Indy for keeping me in line and helping me a lot. And my sisters. And the SDSU coaches for helping me out as much as they could. I still love them. They helped me a lot.”


  1. Eric K Keawe September 20, 2020 8:14 am

    Lilia, great interview with full transparency. Your maternal grandfather would be so proud of the change in direction you are making in your life decisions. When coaches respond to your desire to return online to the “transfer portal” you know that Akua “God” is still listening to you. You have a brighter future ahead. Keep Akua with you daily. Grandpa “Hank” Henry Kapiko is watching over you.

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