An unexpected and wonderful thing happened as Koby Moananu pondered his future during a global pandemic.
Question marks, cancellation of his sports — baseball, then football and, finally, basketball — generated maximum concern for the talented senior. Then, after a rough baseball season for the Kaimuki Bulldogs, Moananu learned that he had been voted into the Hawaii Hall of Honor.
“I feel like it’s a huge honor to be in the Hall. My parents always kept me focused and helped me out with the college side of things,” Moananu said.
Kaimuki coach David Tautofi was pleased and relieved. The cancelled football season had a big effect on seniors statewide, but the momentum has been positive for Moananu in 2021.
“I’ve coached some great and big-time players in the past from both Nevada and Hawaii, but I have to say, Koby is among the best I’ve coached in my career. It’s just too bad he never got a chance at his senior season,” Tautofi said. “Hawaii missed out on an all-time great in Koby, but we’ll get to see him on the next level, possibly in multiple sports. I’m just proud of him and excited to see what’s in store for his future.”
As a junior in the fall of 2019, Moananu teamed up with Jayden Maiava — now a UNLV commit — for 64 receptions, 1,186 yards and 21 touchdowns. He also played full time in the secondary. Kaimuki won the OIA Division II championship, overcoming top seed Roosevelt.
The 6-foot-2, 190-pound wide receiver/defensive back will walk on at Oregon State this fall. He also hopes to play baseball. Even as a preferred walk-on, life as a college freshman will be about frugal living, hours of studying, and nonstop training. Having that $2,000 scholarship from the Hall of Honor and Enterprise Rent-A-Car certainly helps.
“I go (to Corvallis, Ore.) at the end of August. Right now, I’m going to have to keep working out, recover and sign up for more (academic) scholarships,” said Moananu, who considered Utah as another PWO option.
Tautofi knows the struggle of branching out from a Division II football program to the Pac-12 Conference well. He played at UCLA after matriculating from Kaimuki. The Hall, though, is a different galaxy.
“It’s the greatest achievement a student-athlete can achieve in the state of Hawaii. Being that he did it at Kaimuki is historic. I know how deep the pride is to be a Bulldog in his family and it’s true for so many,” Tautofi said. “This one stands out the most and will be something that will highlight the school in its history from here on.”
Moananu’s excellence in three sports comes with a price. Few athletes are as devoted on and off the field. He was part of the food drive-throughs every weekend at the athletic complex. Moananu was among the Bulldogs who showed up each time.
“Koby’s commitment to serving communities, especially during the pandemic — he’s faced some very difficult challenges caused by the pandemic, but never gave up and continued to work hard,” Tautofi said. “Koby overcame so much and became an example to others, with the right heart and attitude. What has separated him the most was his servant leadership.”
Moananu is a classic example of a small-school athlete who could have slipped through the cracks caused by the COVID-19 cancellations. The athleticism and IQ have always been there.
“His best trait by far is his physical ability, his athletic gift, but what is underrated is his way of leading by example,” Tautofi said. “He wasn’t loud, didn’t yell much to get his teammates going, but when he stepped on the field, his play fired the team up and inspired his teammates. He has a fearless mentality, never giving up even in the most hopeless of moments.”
Moananu practically grew up surrounded by the green and gold of Kaimuki. It is where his memories are entrenched.
“My favorite memory of playing Kaimuki football has to be our big championship win against Roosevelt. It felt like our whole community was out there supporting us in the stands from generations of alumni. It was a vey exciting game for me because of the loss we took in the championship my sophomore year,” he said. “Also, to win with a game-winning field goal was just the perfect way to win it.”
Moananu’s passion for baseball hasn’t waned.
“We beat Waianae in my freshman year. I was put into a lot of clutch situations and I pulled through to help us get a big win against them. The year before, we lost to them in the (D-II) semifinals by one run and I was at that game out in Waianae, watching from inside the dugout,” he recalled. “So to beat the top team n our division was a great experience.”
This spring, with prep sports back in the OIA, Kaimuki opened the shortened season with three losses. Then the Bulldogs won their final three contests. Moananu batted .429, drove in six runs and scored 10 more in six games. He also stole three bases.
Kaimuki, a school that has faced declining enrollment, is a cornerstone for Moananu.
“To represent Kaimuki means to represent the greatest community and school on Oahu. Growing up, I used to practice with the varsity baseball team, with coach Reid Yoshikawa, as well as the varsity girls basketball team with Aunty Mona (Fa‘asoa) from fifth grade to high school, almost every day,” Moananu said. “To put on the Kaimuki jersey and to represent Kaimuki was an awesome feeling. Kaimuki has been a home to me for almost half my life and I am truly grateful.”