Only two athletes ran the 40-yard dash in an electronically-timed 4.4 seconds at the Polynesian Bowl Combine last weekend.
One of them was Mililani wide receiver Gavin Hunter, who later finished the seven-hour event with co-MVP honors at his position.
“I’m feeling good right now. We were with Coach Galu (Tagovailoa) getting that morning session,” the 6-foot-2, 185-pound junior said.
It was scorching hot at Skippa Diaz Stadium in the morning. Afternoon trade winds soothed the 50-plus pass catchers as they went from footwork drills and route reps to 7v7 mode. Hours of work on the turf were preceded by hundreds of hours of preparation for Hunter and his peers over the course of the pandemic — with no tackle football.
“I don’t know about most people, but for myself, I like the challenge. People may be lazy at times, not willing to put in the work,” Hunter said.
The 40-yard dash was a chance to unveil his diligence.
“It surprised me because I think that was my first real 40 time, but I feel like personally I could’ve done better,” he said. “That wasn’t my fastest. I definitely worked on it. Speed comes from hard work. I feel like if you’re not gifted with speed naturally, you’ve definitely got to work at it. The key is leg strength.”
That means time with the iron.
“Squats, power cleans, explosive type of workouts. Track workouts. Speed plyometrics. I think that’s really what you need, quick-twitch type workouts,” Hunter said.
Mililani coach Rod York isn’t surprised.
“First, he comes from great genes. His father is Al Hunter, a former Hawaii and Saint Louis cornerback,” York said.
York remembers Gavin Hunter as a freshman. It just wasn’t the right time to move him up to varsity.
“He joined us as a freshman and he needed to develop more mentally, add speed, and develop physically. He was on the JV. I know they were upset with me. His dad was my teammate (at UH). So Gavin worked hard. I told him he’s too slow, and he worked hard.”
York sees young Hunter doing ladders or running hills after Mililani’s conditioning workouts.
“This is not a guy who trains with (personal) coaches. He’s not privileged, so he works hard on his own or with his teammates. He’s a throwback.”
A common thread through the past decade of Mililani’s success is its head coach, York. Always open to new ideas and innovations with an old-school intensity.
“That’s the thing about Coach Rod. He’ll be straight up with you, good or bad. That’s the thing I respect about Coach Rod, for sure,” Hunter said. “We’ve been practicing as a team and we know the goal this whole time, what we’re working for in the end, and that’s states. That’s been the goal for sure.”
Hunter grew up in Ewa Beach and played for the JPS Ewa Beach Sabers, but opted to attend Mililani when freshman year neared.
“For me, it was a better fit. I felt like coach York really helped me out. Not saying nothing against Campbell. I love Campbell, too, but for me, Mililani was the way to go,” he said.
At the time, Poki‘i Adkins-Kupukaa, Tamatoa Mokiao-Atimalala and Titus Mokiao-Atimalala were atop the receiver depth chart. It was 2019.
“It was more so the high schools, just looking at the type of system they run, they type of teams they are,” Hunter said. “It wasn’t only the football. It was also the education. I felt like a Mililani education, you can’t go wrong with that. All the factors.”
The Mokiao-Atimalala brothers are at Division I colleges now. Tamatoa Mokiao-Atimalala is at Hawaii. Titus Mokiao-Atimalala became an All-State wide receiver and is at UCF. Running back Sky Lactaoen is at the Naval Academy.
“You can be at any school. It’s really what you make out of it, but for me, Mililani was the better fit. Everybody knows Campbell is a great team and has a great education. They have all of that,” Hunter said.
The Trojans have been a perennial contender for the OIA Open Division title and one of the most televised programs statewide.
“For me, it had nothing to do with being on TV. More so, the school and the team. At Mililani, when I first stepped on the campus, all the staff and teachers, everyone who works at the office, they make you feel like family, for sure. They make you feel at home. It’s good energy and a good environment there,” he said.
An exact, ideal destination doesn’t exist to Hunter. It’s about opportunity.
“I don’t really have one. Whatever coaches look at me, believe in me and see my potential, that’s my dream college,” he said.
Each day, his uncle Riccy (Novera) and aunt Lia (Fonoimoana) drive him to school.
“I live with them with my brothers and cousins, Makavelli and Manaia (Novera),” Hunter said.
Makavelli Novera, a quarterback, transferred from Kahuku.
“We’ve got four quarterbacks right now. Makavelli, we got Kini McMillan. He’s a freshman. We got Mana (Tarape) and Isaiah Gideon,” Hunter said. “Personally, I think if any of our four quarterbacks transferred to any school on the island, they could start for sure. I believe that. Every day at practice, I see the four of them pushing each other, making each other better like they’re supposed to be.”
Hunter grew up watching his share of football. Mililani was undeniably appealing.
“I remember, definitely, by far, Kalakaua Timoteo. I remember as a little kid watching him. Vae Malepeai, as well. That’s the biggest ones for me, and, of course, Dillon Gabriel, McKenzie Milton,” he said. “All the ones who came out of Mililani.”
Gavin Hunter’s Lockdown Staples
Top 3 movies/shows
1. “Menace II Society”
“I’ve seen that movie a bunch of times. Last I checked, it was on Netflix. I’ve seen it on YouTube, pay a couple dollars.”
2. “Full Metal Jacket”
“That’s a military movie, boot camp and stuff. The sergeant running the boot camp, there’s a lot of lessons about mental toughness. The same way a sergeant runs a boot camp is similar to how a coach runs a football team. We’re like soldiers going to war together.”
“I think this came from the early 2000s. It’s about guys growing up in Jamaica, it tells their story. They moved to Miami, got into America, trying to make a way. It’s an action movie for sure. If you’re looking for an action movie, you can’t go wrong with that.”
Top 3 food/snack/drink
“The best crab is this buffet in Ewa Beach. I think it’s called Bird of Paradise at the (Hawaii Prince) golf club. They have the best crab on the island. All the crab you can eat. Everybody on the table could barely walk.”
“My dad’s steak, that’s No. 1. My dad seasons it, not too sure how he cooks it. He puts that extra love in it. I like mine medium.”
3. Prime rib
“Same place as the crab, Bird of Paradise. I’ve been there probably around 10 times, maybe less. Special occasions before COVID and stuff, my family used to go there Father’s Day, Mother’s Day, Thanksgiving. That would be our brunch, and then for Thanksgiving dinner, we would cook.”
Top 3 music artists
1. NBA Youngboy – “The Story of O.J.”
2. Dee Watkins – “Nolia Flow”
3. 2Pac – “How Long Will They Mourn Me”
New life skill: patience.
“I feel like the whole COVID situation taught me to stay patient, keep my head down and work. I had to wait for my turn and leave it in God’s hands and that helped me to learn patience with other phases of my life.”
“I could cook a bunch of things. Saimin, Vienna sausage, corned beef, eggs, rice.”
“To my dad, thank you for everything, pops. Love you. Shout out to my uncle Riccy and auntie Lia. I appreciate everything that you’ve done for me. Love you guys. Shout out to the rest of my family, my coaches, and all my teammates. I wouldn’t be me without all you.”