The purple orchid lei and black UCF hat were part of a Wednesday morning that was like no other for Titus Mokiao-Atimalala.
The Campbell senior signed his letter of intent to play football at UCF, finalizing a recruiting process that began two years ago.
“I’m finally at ease. The process is over and now I’m focusing on preparing myself for the next level,” said Mokiao-Atimalala, who has a 3.5 grade-point average.
The 6-foot-1, 175-pound wide receiver/defensive back had 20 scholarship offers in hand before narrowing his list over time. The postponement, then cancellation of fall sports included football. That had an effect on Mokiao-Atimalala’s spring load.
“I don’t leave (for UCF) until June. I’m not leaving early. I split up my credits because I thought we were going to have a season (in the spring),” said Mokiao-Atimalala, who still has a sliver of hope for football’s salvation this spring. “It’s more so just finishing off school with good grades and preparing myself for college. Now, I’m kind of back to square one as if I was a freshman in high school. It’s really fine-tuning and adding more tools to my toolbox. I’ll be going up against guys who are grown men with families and stuff.”
He won’t be the first among his siblings to step on a college campus. Older brother Tama Mokiao-Atimalala is in his freshman year as a football player at Hawaii.
“Yes, shout to my brother. Happy birthday, Tama,” Titus said. “He’s at the school today. They have a workout.”
For dozens of other student-athletes across the state, Feb. 3, 2021 is a day that will have the same life-changing impact. Nearly a year ago, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of all high school spring sports in the islands.
Haley Momi Lyman’s dream survived as she embarked on a strange, new odyssey with a plethora of student-athletes in Hawaii. The Kamehameha pitcher was one of dozens who signed their letters of intent via Education-1st’s online conferencing event. Lyman signed to play for Whitworth College.
“I feel great. I’m so excited about everything. I’m just glad I got this opportunity to sign my letter with my family, and with my friends (online),” she said. “I had offers from schools in California and Colorado. I decided to choose Whitworth because of the coach and the community he described. It felt like I was able to have another home and I connected with the girls quickly. It felt like I was going to be part of another family and he kept in contact, so that made me feel good.
The pandemic wrecked Kamehameha’s hopes to win Interscholastic League of Honolulu and state championships, but Lyman and her teammates have moved forward.
Lyman has a 3.8 GPA and plans to major in Communications Studies with an emphasis in media technology.
“News, reports, documentaries, videos in the sports industry. I’d like to create that for other people,” she said.
Hanalani soccer player Leah Kakigi will be the third among her siblings to attend Biola (La Mirada, Calif.). She will be the first, however, to play a sport there.
“I’ve always wanted to go there since I was little because my brother (Sean) and sister (Kelly) went there,” said Kakigi, who plays for Rush Soccer Club.
Kakigi played in a summer camp at Biola last summer.
“It’s close to Disneyland. It’s really nice. I feel like it’s not too big and not too small. It’s just the right size. I wanted to find a Christian campus and that’s a good one,” she said.
Four of the signees in the Education-1st event were Leilehua Mules. Hunter Sasaki, Blaze Wong, Ty Yukumoto and Kalei Akagi inked their letters together inside the school’s gymnatorium.
“I feel good. It’s exciting. I had adrenaline,” said Sasaki, a baseball player who signed with St. Martin’s (Wash.). “We went down last night and set up everything. It was worth it, 100 percent. It’s a once in a lifetime thing. We’ll always remember it. It’s a dream.”
The signing is always official at 7 a.m. Hawaii time.
“I woke up around 4:45 a.m.,” said Sasaki, who has a 4.0 GPA.
Sasaki, who plans to major in civil engineering, also considered Whitman.
Akagi signed with the United States Military Academy — Army. The versatile playmaking football player will line up at slotback for the Black Knights while attending West Point.
“I feel excited, honored and blessed with this opportunity,” Akagi said. “I’m relieved all that hard work paid off. When I signed my letter, it was a lot of stress taken off of my shoulders. All the sacrifice by me and my family has paid off.”
Akagi, who has a 3.3 GPA, also had an offer from Navy, as well as small colleges. Pacific, Puget Sound, Willamette and Linfield were on his list.
Mililani soccer player Joshua Ishizaka signed with Bushnell (Ore.).
“It was the best choice because I have a great relationship with Coach Erik (Carrazco). “We first connected over email and I’ve been in contact with him for over a year. They have a very good business program. That’s what attracted me to the university.”
The location, Eugene (Ore.), was a winning point.
“It’s a smaller university, but it’s also next to the University of Oregon, so you get that campus feel,” Ishizaka added.
He has a 3.8 GPA and intends to major in Business.
Another Mililani student-athlete, Bethany Ballesteros, signed to play two sport at Lewis and Clark (Ore.). Ballesteros will compete in volleyball, and track and field.
“I feel amazing. Shout out to my parents who always support me through everything I do. All of my coaches, high school and club, really pushed me to be the best person I can be on and off the court,” she said.
Ballesteros plays setter and defensive specialist in volleyball. She does the long jump, triple jump and high jump in track and field. All of this while maintaining a 4.0 GPA as president of the student council.
“I’ll have more time to focus on sports and academics. It’ll be a lot harder in college, but I think I’m ready for the challenge,” she said.
Soccer player Kai Nishibun of Kaiser signed with Lake Forest, a school in Chicago.
“I feel way different. Something special is going on. It feels like a whole new chapter in my life, something new and I’ve got to work harder,” he said. “Coach Dan Andrews, we connected through Surf Club. I emailed him first and he emailed back.”
Nishibun plans to major in Elementary Education.
Letter of Intent day
Feb. 3, 2021 signees
Kalei Akagi, Leilehua, football, U.S. Military Academy (Army)
Bethany Ballesteros, Mililani, volleyball/track and field, Lewis & Clark
Dallas De La Cruz, Waianae, baseball, Wenatchee Valley College
Kyle Foss, Liberty/Mililani/Island, soccer, Bushnell College
Sebastian Horn, Kaiser, soccer, Whitworth University
Joshua Ishizaka, Mililani, soccer, Bushnell University
Leah Kakigi, Hanalani, soccer, Biola University
Jacob Reece Kamana‘o-Bulosan, Pearl City, volleyball, Westcliff University
Kia‘i Keone, Kamehameha/Skyridge, football, Colorado Mesa University
Haley Momi Lyman, Kamehameha, softball, Whitworth University
Kayli Makiya, Waipahu, soccer, Waldorf University
Alema Moeava, Punahou, football, Valley City State University
Kara Leigh Morris, Mililani, soccer, Oregon Institute of Technology
Kai Nishibun, Kaiser, soccer, Lake Forest College
Kainalu Pagente, Pearl City, cross country/track, St. Martin’s University
Jordyn Rosario, Mililani, softball, Hope International
Hunter Sasaki, Leilehua, baseball, St. Martin’s University
Noah Takayama, Waipahu, baseball, William Jessup University
Blaze Wong, Leilehua, baseball, George Fox University
Ty Yukumoto, Leilehua, baseball, Pacific (Ore.)