Kingston Gaoteote came a long ways to become the fastest sprinter in the 8-12 age group at Alohi Gilman’s Empower Educate Elevate Football Camp on Friday.
It was worth every mile. The seventh grader from Union City, Calif., will fly over the Pacific and return home on Saturday with the experience of a lifetime. So did roughly 170 young campers in the 3-5 p.m. session. Many of them stuck around afterward to get their camp shirts signed by Gilman, the former Kahuku, Navy and Notre Dame standout who now has a substantial role as a defensive back for the Los Angeles Chargers.
On a sunny, breezy day at Farrington’s Skippa Diaz Stadium, another 250 or so campers in the 13-over session from 6-8 p.m. got a sharper challenge on the turf from the who’s who assembly of football coaching talent. The price was worthwhile: a donation of canned goods that went to the Hawaii Food Bank. Registration closed up well before the camp date.
For the younger group, it was possibly the most vibrant and amazing football experience of the past year-plus.
“I’m just here for the camp, having a vacation, having a good time,” said Gaoteote, who is staying with uncle Josh Gaoteote and family. “It was very fun. Very passionate.”
The 12-year-old was a standout through route-running and pass catching drills. The hands never failed on a variety of throws from a multitude of quarterback hopefuls.
“I like racing and also meeting the guys out here, meeting the coaches. It was very fun,” he said.
Gaoteote also got to race with the camp’s other top sprinters while former CFL and Hawaii standout Chad Owens joined in. Owens was in coach mode except for a few seconds during a sprint challenge between the fastest of the age groups. The speedy receiver — Owens — had no trouble outpacing the youngster, giving campers a glimpse of what pro-level speed is.
Chad Owens and a host of coaches are working with keiki ages 8-12 at @alohigilman Empower Football Camp. The high schoolers (13 and over) will take the field 6 pm. @HawaiiPrepWorld @StarAdvertiser @ChadOwens2 #HoomanaLifestyleFoundation pic.twitter.com/sVvPBfNjb4
— Paul Honda (@PupulePaul) July 10, 2021
Former @CFL and @HawaiiAthletics standout @ChadOwens2 had fun racing against the top sprinters from the 8-12 age group at @alohigilman Empower Educate Elevate Football Camp. #HoomanaLifestyleFoundation @HawaiiPrepWorld @StarAdvertiser pic.twitter.com/i1nXiNCj5N
— Paul Honda (@PupulePaul) July 10, 2021
“It’s good to get out here, be with the kids and just inspire, motivate them. That little run I did was just to have fun, to show them that I’m not just out here trying to coach them, but I want to encourage them that this is fun. Football is supposed to be fun. You’ve got to enjoy this, that way you enjoy the process, and this is part of their process,” Owens said. “Shout out to Alohi for putting this on and having me out here.”
From Matt Faga to Isaac Sopoaga and Nate Ilaoa to former Navy football co-captain Paul Carothers, the turnout of former college and pro players to teach the keiki was star-studded. Ilaoa, a former Hawaii running back, spends most of his days working with another former Warrior, Michael Lafaele, at Ikaika Athletics.
“It just comes full circle, seeing guys who that were playing before me like Jesse Sapolu and Maa Tanuvasa, those guys we looked up to. For us, to have the opportunity see Alohi, who probably watched us play over at UH and wanted to play at a high level. Now someone like Alohi, now a professional, is helping out. He called us and for us, the opportunity to give back is awesome,” Ilaoa said. “Guys like Alohi, Tyson Alualu coming back and doing these things, and we’re more than happy to help, to pass it on to the next generation.”
Ilaoa was expecting 45 or so running backs in the high school session.
“We want to make sure they have the basics and let their high school coaches coach them on details. We want to reinforce that we want them to play hard,” he said.
Owens was with the wide receivers, of course, and looked forward to the session with the older players.
“There’s a big difference from the youth to the high school levels. You can go on a faster pace with the high school guys. They’re going to pick up things a little quicker. It’s still fun, but it’s starting to get a little more serious with this age group. They’ve got goals of going to college, so you can demand a little bit more from these guys. They should respect that and they should want that,” Owens said. “I was told that we have 51 receivers. Let’s go.”
Faga, a longtime defensive line coach, enjoyed seeing his group of young players soak up every bit of instruction.
“It was good fun seeing the kids come out and enjoy themselves. They were really focused on learning the techniques, so it was really fun,” said Faga, who coaches at Kahuku.
Cayman Shutter, Samson Anguay and Owens took turns gunning deep throws to their group of pass catchers toward the end of the first session. Just a bunch of guys throwing bombs to kids — receivers and linemen alike — who loved the chance to catch spirals. And Shutter, the former Punahou standout, wasn’t the only one spinning the pigskin nicely.
“It’s great. Man, getting to come out and work with the kids and give back, with such a great coaching staff. It’s great to see all these guys,” Shutter said. “Man, Chad has still got it, for sure. He’s says he’s not retiring. It’s good to catch up with all these guys.”
Anguay is assisting at Pearl City and has a 7v7 team, Team Icee.
“The main goal when you’re done playing ball is giving back, giving that knowledge, so it’s really good fun,” the former Campbell standout said. “I was blessed to play at Campbell, blessed to be a four-position all-state player, blessed to have the opportunity to go D-I and play at the University of Hawaii. I was blessed to play arena football and coach at the junior college level and learn more knowledge. I appreciate my coaches, and my family that supports me, and my Team Icee. Shout out to Alohi Gilman for doing this for the kids. The pandemic has been kind of a dead period for these kids, but they love football and we love working with the kids, so it’s great.”
— Paul Honda (@PupulePaul) July 10, 2021
Former Hawaii player Ricky Lumford is a football lifer, happy to put his versatility into play.
“I was all skill positions. I probably played every position at UH. I was a defensive back. I played some quarterback. I was a slotback, punt returner, kick returner,” he said.
Coaching in Hawaii has kept Lumford’s energy at a high level for years.
“What I like is the hard work that they put in. They come here with enthusiasm. They put the work and the effort in. They love the game, and that’s all you can ask of these kids,” he said. “They are out here to have fun. They’ll start learning the technique as they get older, but right now it’s to continue the love of the game.”
Former Hawaii offensive lineman Kaulana Noa was on hand to watch his two sons, a fourth grader and a third grader, get an experience that wouldn’t normally be available near his stomping grounds of Honokaa. Noa and his family reside in Nanakuli.
“It’s awesome. As much as these kids can get from local guys and sell the dream that it can happen for kids like myself, eventually give back to the community. Just let them know that it is possible to do it,” Noa said. “It’s good for them to see guys like this.”
Noa’s sons play flag football, and there’s no timetable for them to start playing tackle. He is hands off when it comes to coaching his children at this point. He is enjoying his role as a parent cheering from the bleachers.
“I never played until I started high school, so there’s no real big rush just as long as they enjoy themselves and they’re having a good time. The main thing is having fun right now at this age,” Noa said. “Here, there’s no big pressure, get them out there and have an experience. Some of these kids, maybe their first time out with a big group, so that was good for them.”
For Gilman, who had such a focused, almost solemn approach to preparation and training at a young age, the process is no surprise. He identified his goals and dreams well before he completed a stellar all-state career at Kahuku and has fulfilled many of them already.
“I did it. I’m blessed. This is a huge event. It took a lot of preparation, the staff, the volunteers, the sponsorships and donors. Shout out to the Hawaii Food Bank for doing this, our coaches. It’s been a journey,” he said.
Part of his journey on Friday was coaching defensive backs with his father, Asai Gilman, and other coaches. His afternoon also included an impromptu autograph session after the younger group was done. It was a photo with one camper, then another, and then a request to sign a camper’s shirt, and that led to a mini-avalanche of patient autograph seekers who lined up for their turns.
Roughly 20 minutes later, Gilman was finally free again. Autographs happen in his universe, just not all the time.
“That’s not normal, especially in my community, everyone knows each other,” he said of Kahuku, Laie and Hauula. “When I was in college, it happened quite a bit, and sometimes in the league,” he said.
Years spent evaluating and analyzing every nuance in a defensive backfield, reading quarterback and receiver tendencies, from the father to the son, led to DB Tech Academy. Eventually, it led to the creation of Ho‘omana Lifestyle Foundation, Gilman’s primary vessel to serve the community.
“That’s what it’s about. My hope is that they come here and they leave with a piece of information, of knowledge, inspiration, anything. If I can do that, I did my job well,” he said.
That includes a chance to chat one on one with players and share on-field tips about DB play.
“We’ll turn it up a bit, get some one-on-ones cranking. Fun happening with the youth. High school’s coming up and we’re about to have some fun with that,” he said.
The dreams of hundreds of Hawaii football players may have been dormant during the pandemic, but Friday’s camp gave them and their families — each camper was allowed to have two family members in the bleachers at Skippa Diaz Stadium — a semblance of normalcy, even if it means flying across the ocean.
Gaoteote’s goal is to reach the top.
“My dream is to coach in the NFL. To help my family out, help my mom, help my dad,” said Gaoteote, who has a 3.7 grade-point average.
Hearing Gaoteote’s story surprised Ilaoa, but Gilman’s impact is no surprise.
“Nice. That’s awesome. The fact that Alohi’s out there in L.A., that’s an awesome deal. It’s an opportunity with the platform he has now, that he’s prepared himself for. He’s going to be able to reach a lot of kids. They’ll be able to recognize him, his name, what he stands for, his values. They understand who he is,” Ilaoa said.
Ilaoa is also the new offensive coordinator at Waipahu under coach Bryson Carvalho.