Luke Filikitonga enjoyed every step of the journey from Kihei, Maui to Halawa. The 6-foot-2, 312-pound eighth grader was one of 800 or so football players who turned out for the Nike Football Combine. The group of high schoolers waited above in the blue section of the stadium as seventh and eighth graders took the field when the event began at high noon.
Filikitonga took part in all the combine challenges from agility drill to the 40-yard dash. The only difference for the younger athletes was that they didn’t do a bench press. The notion of flying over to Oahu for the combine wasn’t Filikitonga’s to begin with, but coming off Big Boyz Football League play, he took up his uncle’s offer to get involved — and invest in — his promising future.
Though he was an imposing figure among middle schoolers and high schoolers alike, Filikitonga is every bit of his young age. Living in Kihei, he has the option of attending Lahainaluna, where his cousin Makoa Filikitonga was a star two-way player the past few years. He could also go to Maui, where the Division I program — Lahainaluna is entrenched as a D-II powerhouse — has improved dramatically in the past two seasons.
His gut says…
“Maui,” he said. “But either way, it’s a far drive.”
Where he most feels at home, actually, is in the trenches.
“I like defense, right in the middle,” Filikitonga said. “Our team (Lokelani Waveriders) did pretty good the past two years.”
Filikitonga may be a bit of an unfamiliar face because his family lived in Kapaa, Kauai, for three years. His father relocated the family after getting a new job on Maui.
“On Kauai, we call it chicken island,” he said.
Jokes aside, Filikitonga is even-keeled and focused.
“My parents, they’re really on me about my schoolwork. I have my fun on the football field,” said Filikitonga, whose first name is pronounced Lu-kei.
Two other eighth graders were happy to share their experience of working out under a scorching mid-day sun. Faatuiolemotu Tuitele and Abraham Montero met for the first time on Saturday. Tuitele, better know as Tui to friends, is a 6-4, 310-pound defensive end at Saint Louis, where he played on the intermediate team. Montero attends Waipahu Intermediate School and plays offensive line for the Waipahu Youth League.
“My favorite was the agility (drill),” said Tuitele, who had a time of 5.26 seconds. “I did it good.”
Montero had some training for the combine and was satisfied with his 40-yard dash time (5.75).
The experience invigorated the two players.
“It showed me where I’m at right now and what I need to work on and get ready for next season,” said Tuitele, who saw several friends and teammates at the combine.
The prospect of going to a place with so many unfamiliar faces was something Montero dealt with.
“I only knew one or two guys from Waipahu (Intermediate),” he said. “It’s easy to make friends, but it’s harder to have conversations. I wanted to see a couple of my friends, but some of them were scared.”
Montero says it was worthwhile. Getting an instant printout after the work was done made every participant happy.
“Seeing your times, we learn how far we have to go for high school and college,” said Montero, who said he may attend Campbell or Mililani High School next school year.
The event was hosted by Student Sports, which was repped by Brian Stumpf and Todd Huber.
Huber participated in a Nike Combine in 2006 before going on to play for Cal. Later, he interned under Stumpf and is now a part of the operations crew of about 20 that departs from Torrance, Calif., for combines across the country.