The tweets arrive daily for Saint Louis junior La‘akea Kapoi, a prized prospect coveted by college football recruiters nationwide.
“It’s definitely, always good to get those kind of edits, especially things around the campus I haven’t seen before. Cool or important things about their school,” said Kapoi, a 6-foot-4, 295-pound offensive lineman.
Since last summer, Kapoi has continued to run in stride with changes near and far. The high school football season, postponed by the Interscholastic League of Honolulu, is set to begin on Feb. 22 — 10 days from now.
Kapoi hit the bull’s eye with a 4.0 grade-point average during the fall semester, raising his cumulative to 3.4.
Since mid-September, offers from Nevada, BYU, UCF, San Diego State and Utah State arrived. There was also a re-offer by the new staff at Arizona. That doesn’t include changes at other schools among his offers, 18 in all.
“At this point, I’m not really trying to break down schools right now. I just want to take some official visits. The dead period ends around late April. For the official visits, it’s five, but I’m going on unofficial visits,” Kapoi said on Friday morning. “Official visits, I can bring my mom and dad. That’s always a big plus. It’ll be me and my mom or me and my dad.”
Kapoi has nearly a year, or less if he opts to decide early, before he signs a letter of intent.
“People ask for my Top 10, but I haven’t broken it down yet because I haven’t been there. If I’m going to be there for the next three to five years, I want to get used to the atmosphere and the comfortability in that area,” he said. “My parents (Dean and Patty Kapoi) said, ‘We’re not going to the school. You are. Follow where your heart goes and pick the place you feel comfortable.’ ”
The newer offers bring much more to the puzzle.
>> Arizona, offer on Sept. 15, 2020; re-offer on Jan. 25, 2021
Jedd Fisch is the new head coach of the Wildcats.
“I still keep in contact with the coaches still there and the new ones,” Kapoi said.
>> Nevada, offer on Sept. 18, 2020
If there’s a innate familiarity with the Wolf Pack, it makes sense. Former Saint Louis and Hawaii record-breaking quarterback Tim Chang is Nevada’s tight ends coach. The program was pistol-heavy during historically, but has more of a mixed package now.
“Coach Timmy Chang is a former UH alum. We talked a lot about Nevada. I’ve been in the area before. It’s kind of warm like it is in Hawaii. I haven’t been to the campus before. They run plays that are similar to ours. I think I could adapt well. Any school, I can adapt to the scheme and work hard every day,” Kapoi said.
>> BYU, offer on Oct. 1, 2020
Like Syracuse, a change at the point of contact is potentially crucial.
“This is another staff change. The O-line coach, Eric Mateos, he offered me, and he’s at Baylor now. He said he’s still recruiting me from here, to send my Hudl highlights to the staff. I think he moved to Baylor, I’d say around a month ago,” Kapoi said.
BYU has not missed a beat.
“I’ve been talking to Coach (Kalani) Sitake a lot, and Coach Jason Ah You, the recruiting coordinator,” he said.
>> UCF, offer on Dec. 7, 2020
Dillon Gabriel. Lokahi Pauole. Titus Mokiao-Atimalala. There are plenty of reasons why the Golden Knights are appealing to island prospects 4,654 miles away, but those three athletes top the list.
“It’s definitely a big plus them being there, having some Polys to hang out with. Overall, I liked how they move the ball, especially with Dillon there. He’s an awesome quarterback talent,” Kapoi said.
Alas, another coaching change on Kapoi’s ledger of options arose. When UCF head coach Josh Heupel departed for Tennessee, he brought Glen Elarbee with him.
“The O-line coach, Coach Glen, he moved on to Tennessee. Overall, I want to take my visit there, definitely Florida. I haven’t been there. It should be a fun trip, meet Lokahi and all the boys there,” he said.
>> San Diego State, offer on Feb. 8
Aztecs assistant coach Savaii Eselu arrived at SDSU a year ago and has been active on the recruiting trail.
“Coach Savaii, I like him. It’s also a big plus him being from Hawaii. An energetic guy. I love talking to him, more than about football. How I’ve changed since COVID started until now. Overall, a good coach to talk to, very inspirational,” Kapoi said. “He’s not really pushing you to go to San Diego. He said he’ll be with you to the end. Coaches who don’t push you, they guide you. The recruiting process shouldn’t control your life.”
>> Utah State, offer on Feb. 12
“I’m extremely excited to announce that I have received an offer from Utah State,” Kapoi wrote on his Twitter feed.
The Baylor angle is intriguing to Kapoi, who has offers from the Mountain West, ACC, Pac-12, Big Ten, Big Sky and AAC. None, yet, from the Big 12.
“I’m praying Baylor because of Eric Mateo. If not, I’m not really trying to hold on to that if it doesn’t happen. I’m going to keep working my tail off as if I have no offers at all,” he said.
There have been other disturbances in the force. Arizona State offered Kapoi a scholarship in early June of 2020. Two weeks ago, offensive line coach Kevin Mawae joined the Indianapolis Colts.
Longtime offensive line coach Mike Cavanaugh was at Syracuse, where he recruited Hawaii linemen like Kalan Ellis, also of Saint Louis. However, Cavanaugh joined the Arizona State staff recently. Syracuse was the second university to make an offer to Kapoi, one month after Hawaii offered last April.
“I know Coach Cav. He was at Syracuse. He got to Arizona State three or four weeks ago. I don’t think him not being there is the only reason to go. I would have to go to Syracuse and see if it was the right fit for me. I’m not saying New York is too far from home. Nothing’s too far,” Kapoi said.
Kapoi’s family is entrenched in college football. Oldest brother Micah Kapoi was a graduate assistant coach at Wisconsin and is close to earning a master’s degree. Second-oldest brother Alema Kapoi is a senior lineman at Hawaii. Kapoi’s understanding of the twists and turns runs deep.
“Honestly, I’m just blessed to be offered by these schools. I think it’s a good fit for Coach Cav. That’s what coaches sign up for. You’re not supposed to be at the same school forever. And (former Crusader lineman) Ben Scott is there. Cav is very (Brian) Derby style. He’ll coach you hard, but he won’t let you make the same mistake twice. He’s a good coach, overall,” he said.
There are schools that express interest via social media, but haven’t offered yet. UCLA tweets edits to Kapoi. Former Hawaii defensive back and longtime college assistant coach Brian Norwood and Kapoi keep in touch.
“They said they like to take the recruiting process slow,” Kapoi said.
For now, Kapoi has made a slight change, as well. He stopped playing basketball and will focus on track and field in the spring along with football.
“I’m doing shot put and discus. If that happens this year, I’m going to do it. Micah played basketball and football. Alema did football and track and field, so I decided to do that. I didn’t really know what to do after football. Shot put and discus practice is twice a week. The rest of the week I’m practicing football and lifting,” he said.
The concept of an ILH season comprised of split-squads for bigger programs like Saint Louis is becoming reality.
“They say they’re splitting up, varsity D-I and D-II. We have some young guys on the team, so they’ll have some playing time and film for the (college) coaches. Games is better than no games, getting film out for us juniors. This is the year to show the coaches what we can do. Knowing once my junior film goes out more coaches will contact me,” Kapoi said.
At Saint Louis, work ethic is year-round, but the weight room has been off-limits through the COVID-19 pandemic. It is a strange new world for the Crusaders.
“The school weight room is still closed, but I work out in my garage,” said Kapoi, who managed to hit a new mark on the bench press, 315 pounds, without a spotter.
He asked to shout out his coaches.
“Coach Rob Crowell, James Hall, Brian Derby, Coach Faipea Avaava,” Kapoi said.
He and teammate Jonah Savaiinaea met Avaava at the Stack Sports Regional Showcase.
“Coach Faipea came down to Hawaii. He coaches up in Washington, a real good O-line coach with new techniques. Me and Jonah worked out with him one time and we really liked him. Kind of like Derby. He has clinics in Washington.”
Day-to-day life changed drastically. Kapoi adapted and got a 4.0.
“The goal right now is to work hard and get better every day,” he said. “Be the best version of me.”
Laakea Kapoi, Saint Louis, OL
Arizona State 6/13/20
San Jose State 9/3/20
Southern Utah 9/8/20
Washington State 9/9/20
Oregon State 9/10/20
Arizona 9/15/20, re-offer 1/25/21
San Diego State 2/8/21
Utah State 2/12/21
NOTE: Clarifies former Syracuse assistant coach Mike Cavanaugh moving to Arizona State, not Arizona. Also, Tim Chang is Nevada’s tight ends coach.