Heart of a champion

He was, figuratively and literally, a Fast Eddie.

On the gridiron, Eddie Klaneski was a classic Damien man, an overachiever who wasn’t a prototypical height or weight on the football field. Coaches just loved him because he was fast, physical and smart, each in large doses. When sportswriters, alumni and fans think about Damien football, the list of college football players — Klaneski made his mark at UH — keeps growing. All this despite a program at Damien that often lacks depth, a JV team and an actually standard football field.

Maybe it’s the Eddie Klaneskis of the world who bring imagination to the game. Hope. Inspiration. The Goliaths of the sport take up shelf space and fill the air waves. But the Davids? Some of them try harder. A lot harder.

That’s why it never fails to hit home, right through the heart, when an underdog like Alan Mohika was struck down by a season-ending injury in a game with Moanalua. When it’s a severe concussion and death is at the door, not even a fighter like Klaneski can do much but pray. When I interviewed the first-year head coach last week, Mohika had just begun to recover significantly.

“I’m so happy that people are pushing for him. It’s unbelievable that there’s so much support for him,” Klaneski said. “His mom (Nohea), she’s so strong. Even Darnell (Arceneaux), Nolan (Tokuda), Rod York, so many coaches called and gave us support. I feel so fortunate to have friends and a community.  Every time I talk about it I get choked up a little bit. It hits me personally.”

There are questions, naturally. Technology refuses to keep pace with the increasing speed and power of the sport.

“The kids are a lot faster, stronger, hitting harder. It’s hard to explain. A lot of things in the past, I remember taking shots, I never really got a concussion like that. I don’t know what the difference is these days. We try to take as much precaution as possible.” Klaneski said.

He remembers the shock and devastation Mohika’s parents endured while their son was transported to the hospital and kept in the ICU. Alan Mohika has been released from Queen’s Medical Center, but for hours, it was touch and go for the Damien ohana.

“She’s the one who’s really strong. The dad took it hard,” the coach said of Mohika’s family. “Later that night, she wasn’t too bad and I was kind of surprised. She said, ‘No coach, it’s OK. My son, he’s strong.’ I couldn’t believe how strong she was.”

When nurses removed Alan’s breathing tube, neck brace and oxygen, Nohea Mohika was grateful.

“He’s had a real strong prayer group around the island,” she said. “A lot of people dedicated their masses to Alan. At New Hope Christian Fellowship’s 7 o’clock service, they prayed for him. I didn’t know the impact of all of this. I’m just a mother and I had no idea how big this turned out to be, all the people that’s been visiting him. It’s just amazing.”

Alan Mohika, a quarterback/defensive back listed at 5-foot-7 and 155 pounds, also plays baseball. He put plenty of time and energy into football, and his dedication is one reason why his mother didn’t prevent him from playing.

“He prepared himself for this. I mean, he lifted those weights. He ate the fruits, the vegetables, drank the Muscle Milk. He made himself strong so he could take that hit, for him to recover the way he did. The sacrifices he made for the school blew my mind. If it was anyone else besides Alan, it might have been worse,” she said.

“He’s the runt of my litter, my ‘no fear’ man. He did it for his team, his school, the Damien Monarchs. It was one of the best games he ever played.”

She learned to hold back and let her son chase his dream. Of course, this is easier said than done.

“He’s so small, he steps back to pass and I can’t see my own son. Sometimes, it scares me to death, but he loves the game and I wasn’t going to be the one to stop him. If I did, he would regret it for the rest of his life and he would blame me. He’s always gone 100 percent in everything he did,” she said.

The family saw teammates stream into ICU to see Alan.

“The impact and love, even Moanalua kids came to see him. It’s amazing to me how many people he impacted. I cry when I think about it, such a little guy. All last year, not one touchdown (by the team). They scored on defense. Here, they scored their first touchdown (this season),” she said.

The hours in the ICU will be memorable for so many reasons.

“You can only have two go in at a time and I didn’t want to limit who could come. They came to see him, these boys cried. I didn’t stop anybody. I had a hallway of Damien Monarchs. I said, ‘Emmitt (Lewis), you’re in charge.’ They came and came because of the love they have for Alan, the impact he had on them and how hard he worked.”

Klaneski was chosen to lead the program at a time when it’s difficult as ever being an underdog.

“It’s been tough. I get some support from my girl and my family. At the end of the game, I had a million phone calls and texts. It shows how much people care about football and these kids.”

Paul Honda, Star-Advertiser


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