Kaden Baptista is not the usual valedictorian candidate.
With his curly, bleached blonde hair and earrings, the two-sport athlete looks more like an artist than a perfectionist. There are, however, goals. Many goals.
The former Konawaena student-athlete took a step toward his dream, to play college football, by earning honors as one of the top five wide receivers at the Polynesian Bowl Combine on Saturday at Skippa Diaz Stadium. Though he doesn’t lack any confidence, the selection surprised Baptista.
“I originally came here for DB, and they played me back and forth,” Baptista said.
He moved to Santa Ana after the 2020 football season was postponed in Hawaii. He played four games at Villa Park at free safety and wide receiver.
“I lived with my auntie Kawehi and my uncle Bubba Gonzales. He’s the head coach for OCC (Orange Coast College),” Baptista said. “I miss Kona, but for me, home is always going to be there. I like to do something different, get out there.
The move to SoCal didn’t lead to a scholarship offer, but there is broad interest for Baptista, who will be a senior this fall.
“It opened many college options. I have interest from UNLV, Oregon State, Michigan, Utah, Utah State, Dixie, Navy, Air Force,” he said.
Baptista says he has always dyed his hair, but beneath the exterior, he is all business.
“The key is focusing, staying on top of your grades and not getting distracted inside and outside class by friends, other people, someone trying to hold you back. My goal is to make it to the top,” he said.
That involves some sacrifice.
“I love to dive, hunt, go beach. I sacrificed all of that. Sometimes, I hunt by myself, sometimes with my cousins and my uncle Hesi (Anuhea-Ambrosio). Or with my aunt, Nakoa Pabre. We use dogs. I dive with my auntie, my friends, my uncle, my family,” he said.
Back in the islands for two weeks, squeezing in a day at the Polynesian Bowl Combine turned into a good investment of time for the scholar-athlete and his father, Ikaika Baptista. His dad played baseball at Kamehameha, graduated in 1995, and went on to play at Hawaii.
“I’m here until the 19th, then I fly back (to California) and get back to the grind. We just finished spring ball, and summer ball just finished, too. I’ve been working out by myself on the field at Old A’s (Old Kona Airport). Up there, California is pretty much open,” Baptista said.
Through his journey, there have been open doors and plenty of love.
“Shout out to auntie Kawehi, uncle Bubba and the Gonzalez family. My dad and mom for allowing me to go, I know you guys sacrifice a lot. Shout out to my friends and family,” he said. “Villa Park, Go Spartans.”