Freshman year for most student-athletes is a time of foundational work.
Getting acclimated. Learning the ropes. For Kanoa Ferreira, it was a bit more than that. Ferreira was selected as one of the top five receivers at the Polynesian Bowl Combine on Saturday at Skippa Diaz Stadium, a rare feat for a playmaker this young. The other selections at WR were Keawe Andres of Leilehua, Gavin Hunter of Mililani, Kaden Baptista (Villa Park, Konawaena) and Joshua Gleason of Pearl City.
Young phenoms like Ferreira got their chance to shine in the day-long event. Three hours of fundamental work under a blistering-hot morning sun didn’t slow Ferreira, who was rated as one of the top eighth-grade prospects nationally a year ago. He was one of the pass catchers who stood out in the afternoon 7-on-7 session. The long day, the constant footwork drills, running routes without an active ball in play — all of it was par for the course in Ferreira’s world.
“It’s pretty much what I expected from the itinerary that was sent to us. Running certain routes and plays in the 7-on-7s,” said Ferreira, who believes he had more than 50 snaps in the sevens. “I train with coach Samson (Anguay), so I expected to work on my fundamentals with him.”
The 2020-21 year did not lack turbulence and tough decisions for Ferreira. First came the postponement, then cancellation of football season, an opportunity to attend IMG Academy, and eventually, a decision to transfer from Campbell to Mililani.
The work ethic and talent remain the same. Ferreira did the work he believed was necessary through the pandemic, getting reps with Anguay and coach Kawe Johnson. It showed in Pylon season as he played for TMF and 808 Beast. His combination of footwork, route running and sticky hands are why he played at a varsity level in Pylon as an eighth grader, and has translated to tackle format.
He also has familiarity with every possible kind of throw from a variety of passers. Ferreira got “at least 50 snaps” and was willing to gauge some of the top QBs at the combine.
Best deep ball: Shane Kuboyama-Hayashi
Best intermediate passes: Mana Tarape
Best sideline passes: Nazaiah Caravallo-Lawelawe
Best touch: Kini McMillan
— Kanoa Ferreira (@Kanoa_ferreira) July 11, 2021
That was on Saturday. On Sunday, Ferreira will be back with Johnson and the high school crew of athletes, grinding on the grass at Manana District Park. The consistency of repetitions, day by day, week after week, isn’t for everyone.
“I’ve heard from kids complaining. I don’t say anything about it. I just focus and do what I have to do,” he said.
Back in January, Ferreira’s family deliberated about the possibility of moving to Florida after IMG Academy showed interest.
“The tuition and dorms is $70,000. (Financial aid) was $20,000. I think it worked out best for me,” Ferreira said.
If the means had been available, though, there would have been a lot of packing to do.
“We definitely would’ve moved,” he said.
When the school year ended, Ferreira earned a 4.0 grade-point average at Campbell. He wasn’t rooted, however, after staying online with classes from start to finish. Though athletes like Tamatoa Mokiao-Atimalala (Hawaii), Titus Mokiao-Atimalala (UCF) and Sky Lactaoen (Navy) showed that Campbell graduates can flourish, it wasn’t enough for Ferreira.
“I transferred to Mililani. (My parents) actually left it up to me. They didn’t really say anything. I kind of felt like Mililani would be the best place for me, open up better opportunities for college. They get more exposure and they have a great program,” he said. “DJ (coach Darren Johnson) was kind of upset, but he wasn’t really mad about it because he felt that I was doing what was best for me and that was OK with him.”
Ferreira enrolled at Mililani at the start of summer.
“I’ve been training with them, running at the high school and lifting at UFC Gym every week Tuesday to Friday,” he said. “It’s been good. I definitely got some work in with them, learning the new plays, getting used to the boys.”
Departing from his network of friends in Ewa Beach wasn’t easy.
“I didn’t actually tell my friends that I was transferring. It just happened. Some of the DBs from Campbell, they were kind of giving me some trash about it,” he said.
That’s to be expected from longtime friends and teammates. The equation also included this: the departure of quarterback Blaine Hipa.
“For me, it’s the personnel. If Blaine would have stayed, I probably would’ve stayed at Campbell,” he said.
After losing his junior year to the cancellation of high school football in Hawaii, Hipa transferred to Chandler (Ariz.) in the spring and is now the starting quarterback.
Ewa Beach has turned out prolific talent at the position in recent years. After Tua Tagovailoa and brother Taulia, the latest group included Micah Alejado, now playing at Bishop Gorman.
Ferreira isn’t alone. Another former Ewa Beach Saber, quarterback Mana Tarape, is also at Mililani. Tarape also had a strong performance at the combine.
The grind, though, doesn’t stop. Ferreira has worked diligently at all aspects of his position.
“Something I improved on is getting off jam. I’m actually working with coach Samson and coach Kawe, using creative ways to use get off the line. That’s really been a big help to me,” he said.