The world of Jayhawks and Vikings won’t be the same without Tanikeni “Isi” Holani.
The Kansas and Hilo defensive tackle died on Saturday in Hilo. Holani was just 24. No cause of death has been determined yet.
Kaeo Drummondo, now Hilo’s athletic director, was a defensive coordinator when Holani wore the blue and gold.
“The news of Isi’s passing was just devastating to learn. What I remember most about him as an athlete was his leadership in the program,” Drummondo said on Sunday.
Hilo won two of the last three D-I state titles under Drummondo, who credits the character of Vikings in years past for setting a standard of excellence.
“He was a multi-sport athlete and he always kept himself busy. Other athletes saw that and he definitely set the bar high for others to follow,” he said.
Former Kansas coach David Beaty told the Kansas City Star: “One of the kindest souls on earth. His family has a one-of-a-kind spirit that Isi embodied daily.”
Holani was the Big Island Interscholastic Federation defensive player of the year in 2013 as the Vikings began their journey to Division I prominence. He was 275 pounds then, and also a league and state champion in the discus. By the time he suited up at Riverside (Calif.) Community College, he was 6 feet, 3 inches and 318 pounds. A year later, he signed with Kansas and played three seasons there.
“We followed his maturation from Hilo High to Riverside and ultimately to Kansas. We were so proud of him for sticking it out and accomplishing his dream of playing Division I football. He truly made us all proud,” Drummondo said. “Every time one of our past players accomplish great things, we feel as if it’s our own child accomplishing that for all of us.”
Holani returned to the Big Island and was a familiar face.
“This past year, Isi came home to watch his brother, Sione, finish up his senior year and I was very excited to hear that. We tried to get him to help us full-time, but his schedule didn’t allow it,” Drummondo said. “We cherished the time we had him at practices and I personally always enjoyed having him on our sidelines. I know the players did, as well.”
This year, in February, he connected with the Sioux Falls Storm of the Indoor Football League before the COVID-19 pandemic sidelined the world of athletics.
“On the field, he was a safety blanket in a sense. When he was on the field, you just expected and knew something good would happen. He was a playmaker,” Drummondo said.
The Viking family will always stick together, he added.
“I feel sorrow for the Holani family and his younger siblings in particular. I know they looked up to him and revered him. Isi will surely be missed, but not forgotten,” Drummondo said. “Once a Viking, always a Viking.”