Friends and family of Vavae Malepeai gathered at the Mililani High School gym on Monday to celebrate the running back’s selection to the U.S. Army All-American Bowl.
Malepeai, Hawaii’s all-time leading rusher and a three-year starter at running back for the Trojans, is one of close to 100 seniors across the country who have been selected to play in the game at the Alamodome in San Antonio on Jan. 9.
Malepeai spoke to the crowd and thanked all of the people in his life for their continued support. He choked up when he talked about his mom and dad, Mako and Tali Malepeai, and others and how much they’ve done for him through the years.
To everyone, he said, “You don’t understand what it means to me that you’re here in the stands and at my games.”
Several onlookers were crying during his emotional speech.
Mililani head coach Rod York also got choked up with emotion when he spoke about Vavae, pausing several times to gather the correct words and clear his throat.
Even York, whose deep-rooted philosophy about football is that it is a team game, mentioned that the Trojans were fortunate to be part of Vavae’s three-year ride.
It was a ride that helped the Trojans to a state title a year ago and a state-runner-up finish the year before that. Despite high hopes during his senior season this year, the Trojans were eliminated in the state semifinals.
Malepeai finished his career as the all-time state leader in rushing yardage (4,549) and rushing touchdowns (71) in 37 games.
Malepeai, who accepted a scholarship offer to play at Oregon next year, received a yellow U.S. Army bowl-game jersey as part of the celebration on Monday.