Notre Dame enters fray for Punahou LB Kahanu Kia

Punahou outside linebacker Kahanu Kia (8) returned an interception for a touchdown against Kamehameha. Photo by Jamm Aquino/Star-Advertiser.

(Update: Stanford offered a scholarship to Kia later in the day, the 15th school on his list.)

Summer was serene and mostly silent for Kahanu Kia.

The daily workouts were a grind, the clanging of 45-pound plates and the churning of cleats on grass. Notre Dame changed the mood for Kia, offering a football scholarship to the 6-foot-2, 210-pound linebacker on Tuesday night.


“Every offer is different for me in what they bring to the table, but shoot, it’s Notre Dame,” said Kia, a senior who has offers from 13 other schools. “Talking to (assistant) coach (Brian) Polian and coach (Clark) Lea, the defensive coordinator, I feel like I’ve had a good bond with them already.”

Notre Dame has forged a relationship with Punahou over the years. Jason Ching played offensive line for both schools. Manti Te‘o and Robby Toma matriculated to “Touchdown Jesus.” Marist Liufau graduated in 2019 and joined the Fighting Irish.

“Marist is there already. I’m going to try to talk to him tomorrow. The chance to play with him again, I feel like it’s the biggest brand in college football. The biggest stage,” said Kia, who has a 3.5 grade-point average. “Besides on field stuff, I think they’ve developed a good relationship with our coaching staff. They can trust their opinion over the years. It’s been the same people since Manti.”

Punahou interim head coach Leonard Lau has seen talent flourish on both ends of the pipeline.

“Manti and Robby showed that Hawaii kids could compete and excel with the best players in the nation. Giving opportunities for players like Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa (Kapolei), Alohi Gilman (Kahuku), Marist, Jordan Botelho (Saint Louis) and now Kahanu and Teva (Tafiti) to attend a prestigious institution like Notre Dame,” Lau said.

Kia last received a scholarship offer in mid-June from UCLA, which coincidentally was one of two schools to make offers to Tafiti, also on Tuesday.

“That guy, he is going off. Can’t say we didn’t see it coming, honestly,” Kia said of the junior defensive end.

Kia had renewed communication with Notre Dame only recently.

“I met them earlier in the winter. A couple of weeks ago, they texted me. They had their eye on me and a linebacker spot opened up. OK, you’re the next man up on the board,” he said. “I wouldn’t say it’s surprising. We were moving in the right direction, but I’m still super happy and excited.”

His father, Punahou assistant coach Nate Kia, was in the driveway.

“As soon as I got off the phone, he pulled up. I just came up to him, ‘Notre Dame just offered.’ He knew we were in contact. My mom (Emmalei) was really excited,” Kia said.

Though Notre Dame is a cornerstone addition to his list of offers, Kia isn’t about to make a final decision soon.

“Not right now. Not that the offer isn’t significant, but I don’t think I’m close to committing soon. But they want me to visit,” he said.

He has paid close attention to the situation in college football. The Fighting Irish still have tremendous influence on and off the field.

“Notre Dame is playing football in the ACC for one season. That did something big for all of college football. It gave them extra revenue and they can keep playing,” Kia said.

The grind continues for Kia.

“I’m still working out every day, running, and (online) school,” said Kia, noting that Punahou’s flexible class schedules are still in play. “They did a really good job letting the students keep the classes they signed up for, maintain a schedule, not having to be on a screen all day. It’s kind of complicated how they did it with blocks.”


Kia has two two-hour classes in a day. On other days, an extra class.

“It’s different for everybody,” he said.

Total offers: 14

(chronological order)

Utah 9/14/19

*Washington State 10/28/19 (coach later left)

Colorado 1/21/20

Washington State 1/27/20 (re-offer by new coach)

Princeton 2/12/20

Dartmouth 2/19/20

Hawaii 2/20/20

Utah State 2/21/20

Penn 2/22/20

San Diego State 3/17/20

UNLV 3/25/20

Arizona 4/8/20

Fresno State 4/14/20


UCLA 6/16/20

Notre Dame 9/1/20

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