The Washington Huskies don’t throw a large net when they scour the islands for talent.
Recruiter Ikaika Malloe is picky. Landing Kamehameha defensive tackle Kuao Peihopa could fortify a defensive unit that is already talented — and sparked by local talent.
Peihopa, a 6-foot-3, 310-pound two-way lineman, will bring a 3.4 grade-point average to the Huskies. He will graduate early from Kamehameha and will arrive in Seattle after the Polynesian Bowl in mid-January.
“It’s the University of Hawaii at Seattle campus. Miki Ah You (of Kahuku) is behind us (at linebacker). Lanakila Pei (of ‘Iolani) at corner. Asa Turner from Mililani is the starting safety. And Zion Tupuola-Fetui (of Pearl City) leads the nation in sacks per game right now,” Peihopa said.
He also noted that a key cog in Tampa Bay’s defense, tackle Vita Vea, is another influence.
“That guy’s a former Husky. He’s one of the best run stuffers in the league,” Peihopa said.
The culture arriving on campus has blended well with the Huskies, who were in line to play for the Pac-12 Conference championship. A spike in COVID-19 cases derailed UW’s opportunity.
“It’s not like I’m going there because there’s a bunch of Poly guys, but it’s a foundation of family, culture, loyalty and working your hardest. That’s what attracts a lot of Polynesian guys and that’s what attracted me, too,” he said.
Peihopa has worked out diligently, 12 workouts per week, often with former UH and NFL defensive lineman Laanui Correa. The sessions involve boxing every day.
“I’m not as strong as guys in the NFL yet, but I will be. I take stuff from everybody. Aaron Donald, JJ Watt, Sheldon Rankins. He plays for the Saints and he’s an animal,” Peihopa said. “I feel like I play a lot like Chris Jones. I like to model myself after him.”
Signing day was a formality.
“It’s just time to take the next step in life and work harder. I’ve always watched signing day,” said Peihopa, who committed to UW on Apr. 22. “It feels like forever, but I’ve known that I’m going there. It’s not a surprise.”
His versatility is on the table.
“I played both ways my junior year, but I really don’t have a preference. They want me as a defensive lineman, so I’m playing defensive line. If they want me to be a lead blocker (in a jumbo formation), I’d love to do it,” Peihopa said.
He signed his letter outside the door of his kindergarten class at Kamehameha.
“My teacher’s name was Mrs. (Kathy) Wurdeman. I’ve been at Kamehameha all my life. Me and Austyn (Kauhi) were the tallest kids in our class back then,” he said.
Kauhi became an offensive lineman and committed to Syracuse on the same day Peihopa committed to Washington. Kauhi signed with the Orange on Wednesday.
Peihopa knows he was scrutinized during the recruiting process. He practically welcomed it.
“Coach Malloe does his research,” he said. “For me, he went to a ninth-grade girl and asked what I’m like. He asked a dorm advisor if he’d ever seen me on campus, even though I never lived in the dorms. ‘Do I walk like I’m humble or do I walk like a bully?’ “
Peihopa is on to his next chapter.
“I’m graduating Friday. It’s probably the last time I’ll be on campus because of COVID,” he said. “I’ve been getting closer with the coaching staff and the players, our recruiting class. I haven’t been texting them every day, but we’re friends on social media.”
Like Kailua’s Cameron Friel, who signed with UNLV on Wednesday, Peihopa wants a head start on academics at college.
“I want to go in early because I’m done with all my credits. Get college credits done, get to work in the weight room, be ready for spring ball because that’s huge,” he said. “Their (defensive) system is similar. At Kamehameha, we have an adaptive scheme with multiple base fronts and it changes for every opponent. Washington is like that, too. It’s not one defense we stay in and try to master.”
Peihopa’s message, like his play on the gridiron, is concise, yet powerful.
“Shout outs to my uce gang — my cousins. Shout out to all the boys,” he said. “And shout out, Jesus Christ.”