This doesn’t happen often, especially in the COVID-19 pandemic era.
With 17 scholarship offers and no football season until 2021, Punahou senior Kilinahe Mendiola-Jensen is taking a bold step forward. The talented cornerback announced on Wednesday that he will make an oral commitment to one of the universities on Friday morning.
This comes one month after Arizona became the first and only Pac-12 Conference program to make an offer to the 6-foot-2, 158-pound playmaker. Since then, Nevada offered a scholarship on Aug. 13.
“I’m excited to see what school Nahe commits to as well! Very happy and excited not only for him, but his family as well,” Punahou interim head coach Leonard Lau said. “Parents sacrifice a lot for their children to give them opportunities to better their future. It’s always gratifying for a parent to see their child thrive. I’m confident Nahe will choose a college that’s a right fit for him academically, athletically and socially.”
As an assistant coach prior to this year, Lau has seen Mendiola-Jensen’s development.
“I’m not surprised with all these opportunities he is receiving. He’s put the work in and I’m happy it’s paying off. He’s a great story for our younger athletes. If you work hard on your craft, take care of business in the classroom, be a good person and teammate you will have opportunities. That’s in life, too. It’s that daily mindset I believe Nahe possesses. I’ll be anxiously waiting his announcement as well,” Lau said.
Mendiola-Jensen’s presence on social media has been as consistent as any island football player. His ability to connect and continue communicating with coaches is up there with the best. It is an amazing journey to witness.
Mendiola-Jensen was relatively unnoticed as a junior, though he was a key cog in Punahou’s elite defense. The Buffanblu were 10-2 in 2019, losing only to nationally ranked Saint Louis. Punahou’s senior-heavy defenders got the accolades from coaches and media in all-state voting, which makes Mendiola-Jensen’s skyrocket ascent in the offseason that much more impressive. Long, rangy, finishes plays with explosion. Can play corner, safety and anything in-between.
His constant flow of workout videos in individual and 1v1 workouts on the grass throughout the pandemic is proof that talent alone isn’t enough in these lockdown times. College coaches want to see work ethic and athleticism on tape, even in normal times. Recruiters are not allowed to attend high school games.
Former Hawaii wide receiver and current Navy assistant coach Billy Ray Stutzmann was the first to offer a scholarship to Mendiola-Jensen on Mar. 26. Longtime island recruiter and former Waipahu coach Sean Saturnio was next. The Army assistant coach made an offer on Apr. 6.
On Apr 16, the avalanche of offers began with three Big Sky Conference schools in the mix. UNLV, Utah State and San Diego State of the Mountain West Conference weren’t far behind. As of today, there are six offers from the MWC, six from the Big Sky, and one apiece among the AAC, MAC, Pioneer, Pac-12 and independents.
What sets Mendiola-Jensen apart as a potential recruit is this: He took the time to inform FCS coaches that he had removed them from his final list two weeks ago. He rose to a three-star rating on 247sports.com over the offseason as the offers arrived, but Mendiola-Jensen remains as humble and professional as they come in the prep ranks.
Here’s a look at each offer, from contenders to long shots.
The Favorite: Arizona
The skinny: It is no coincidence that Mendiola-Jensen began to narrow down his list after the Arizona offer came in. Wildcats assistant coach Andy Buh built a solid relationship with the Buffanblu defender. The ‘Cats are confident, it seems, that Mendiola-Jensen can add plenty of muscle and weight his senior season, and again when he is at the Arizona training table. He’s 6-2, and that counts for a lot in a recruiter’s book.
Pupule says: The opportunity to play in a Power Five conference makes this a near-lock pick, but Mendiola-Jensen could surprise.
The Contenders: UNLV, San Diego State
The skinny: Mendiola-Jensen takes pride in his ability to build lines of communication with all coaches. UNLV, with former Baldwin coach Chad Kauhaahaa on staff, is still in the running. The new facility, sharing the same stadium with the Las Vegas Raiders, is an immeasurable asset for Rebel recruiting hopes. The new staff at UNLV also brings some juice.
Savaii Eselu is just months removed from his relocation from Moanalua to San Diego State. His work is on the island radar of several top prospects. Like UNLV, San Diego State plays in the MWC, which means Mendiola-Jensen’s family would get to see him play at least twice in Hawaii over the span of his career.
Pupule says: UNLV and SDSU have the edge among MWC. But the Pac-12 is the Pac-12. UNLV and SDSU will need a sloppy finish by Arizona to eke this out.
The Puncher’s Chance: Nevada, Utah State, Fresno State, New Mexico
Pupule says: These four MWC programs need a stroke of luck to land a knockout punch. Though they are in the same conference with Hawaii, the added distance and even lack of direct flights — does any city have more than Vegas from HNL? — are factors. Small or large, those are part of the equation.
Still in the hunt: Army, Central Michigan
The skinny: Mendiola-Jensen has often said that it’s about the fit, not necessarily the prestige of a school or conference. Army was early on him and Saturnio is an outstanding communicator. Mendiola-Jensen is loyal to a point, which is why Army is still in this picture. CMU has a seemingly charismatic recruiter in former Saint Louis standout Tavita Thompson.
Pupule says: Playing the MAC, nearly 5,000 miles from home, would be no problem for Mendiola-Jensen. However, he loves his family and they wouldn’t see much of him, if ever, if he plays in the Midwest.
Long shots: Navy, Idaho, Sacramento State, Eastern Washington, Montana, Southern Utah, Valparaiso, Weber State.
The skinny: Navy has the edge here, an AAC member with a larger scope and magnetism than most FCS programs.
Pupule says: If not for video and social media — if this was 1995 — there’s a probable chance that Mendiola-Jensen’s options would be limited to FCS schools based on his vitals. But seeing is believing, and now, many of the mid-majors are on the outside looking in while a favorite like Arizona sees big-time potential.
Cal, Hawaii and Washington, Mendiola-Jensen said, had expressed interest, as well, but did not offer.
Navy (AAC) 3/26/20
Army (independent) 4/6/20
Idaho (Big Sky) 4/16/20
Sacramento State (Big Sky) 4/17/20
Eastern Washington (Big Sky) 4/21/20
UNLV (MWC) 4/29/20
Central Michigan (MAC) 4/30/20
Utah State (MWC) 4/30/20
Montana (Big Sky) 5/14/20
San Diego State (MWC) 5/28/20
Southern Utah (Big Sky) 5/28/20
Valparaiso (Pioneer) 6/8/20
Weber State (Big Sky) 6/11/20
Fresno State (MWC) 6/12/20
New Mexico (MWC) 6/16/20
Arizona (Pac-12) 7/22/20
Nevada (MWC) 8/13/20