A year ago, Jaydon Kaio was a play-making 6-foot-1, 160-pound linebacker at Castle.
Today, the senior is now 175 pounds and starting at linebacker for Utah’s No. 1-ranked team, Corner Canyon (4-0). His new hometown is Draper.
“Draper is probably like Hawaii Kai. They’re really rich in this area,” Kaio said on Monday morning. “It’s a bit different and more complex, I’d say. I’m good at rushing the passer and I can bring a hit. I can cover because of my length.”
He is one of several island players who transferred to Utah and Idaho to play football this fall. Unlike most of them, he transferred back in January, before the COVID-19 pandemic blew up. In Hawaii, the football season is postponed until early 2021. Student-athletes who transfer out of state to play a sport will not be eligible to repeat a season in Hawaii in the same academic year.
The move was a jolt for Kaio, who has benefited from the change in scenery. He is starting at weak-side linebacker. He played defensive end and OLB at Castle.
“I was working out three times a day back home. I worked out with my linebacker coach (Kawehi Sablan), usually field work or at the beach or a park somewhere. Then I would lift at Le Jardin with my trainer. This was last winter, before I moved up here,” Kaio said.
Kaio relocated to Draper with his mother (Maile Poleki) and stepfather (Daniel Poleki).
“I wanted to focus more. I felt like in Hawaii there were way too many distractions,” he said. “I knew about Corner Canyon through my coach (Sablan).”
Kaio’s biological father, Ryan, was surprised by the decision.
“He wanted to make sure I moved for the right reasons and I don’t have distractions. I think he knows now it was a good thing because of the whole COVID thing and we have a season. He tried to talk me out of it at first, but after awhile he realized it’s a good thing for me,” Kaio said. “He’s proud of me.”
Ryan Kaio has seen a lot of growth in his son.
“I miss him more than he misses me. He has matured in leaps and bounds since moving there. He’s looking at the bigger picture of possibly playing at the next level and sees what the atmosphere of a championship team is like,” he said. “He went from an unknown player to a starter on a nationally ranked team, but he can’t be content and stop working.”
Corner Canyon won the 6A Utah state title last year and took the 5A crown in 2018. The Chargers (4-0) are ranked No. 14 in the USA Today Super 25 and No. 15 nationally by MaxPreps. They routed Jordan 51-14 on Friday.
The adjustment to a new culture has been unique for the senior.
“It’s definitely different, the atmosphere and people, but it’s pretty nice. There’s a lot of mountains, so it reminds me of home, the Koolaus and stuff,” Kaio said. “Everyone at school is just mellow. Everything is online school, so I only go (to campus) for one period, to lift.”
In the spring, there was practically no field time aside from conditioning due to the pandemic.
“When we were in quarantine, I actually came back to Hawaii in late March. I did all my classes online. We had (online football team) meetings maybe every other day. Sometimes it would be our position, and sometimes the whole defense,” Kaio said.
His Canyon Corner coaches would have x’s and o’s digitized and ready to go.
“Our coaches would share his screen with us,” Kaio said of linebackers coach Jordan Lopez and defensive coordinator Casey Sutera. “I was still going to the beach before I came back. I usually go boogie-boarding at Sandy’s.”
Kaio returned to Draper on May 25. The online football meetings stopped for a couple of months. Corner Canyon got back on the field in mid-July. He began to hear about other island players coming to the Beehive State.
“I read the story about Tiger Adolpho,” Kaio said of the former Kahuku quarterback who is now at Rigby (Idaho). “I heard about the Kamehameha player (Kia‘i Keone) at Skyridge, and a Kahuku player (Alan Talanoa at Pine View). And Tausili (Akana of Kamehameha, now at Wasatch). I wasn’t really surprised, especially for the seniors. I figured they would move up. I was kind of surprised with Tausili because he’s so young.”
Kaio’s closing speed is universal. He has 16 tackles, two sacks and one forced fumble. He had no offers before leaving Castle, and he hasn’t had any inquiries at Corner Canyon. Kaio said he is probably not going to qualify academically for a four-year school.
“I’m probably going to a smaller school, a JUCO. There’s one, Allan Hancock (Community College) in California, they have a lot of Hawaii kids who go to D-I (colleges),” Kaio said. “I probably have to get a job right after football season ends. I’m probably going to stay here (in Draper). I’ll still have a graduation party (in Hawaii).”
California community colleges average $1,636 per year in tuition for in-state students. Out-of-state tuition is $6,797 per year. He could benefit from financial aid and he could live and work in California for 366 days to qualify for in-state tuition.
“I think that would be a good idea,” Kaio said. “It would give me time to gain more weight.”
Minimum wage in Utah is $7.25 per hour. In California, it is $12 per hour.
He thanked Coach Sablan and a former Castle standout.
“Shout out to Coach Kawehi and Coach Jaymason Lee. I used to work out with Coach Jaymason whenever he had free time. I used to play for his 7v7 team, Champions Academy,” Kaio said.