ON THIS DATE IN 1986: Punahou legend Shawn Akina dies

Hawaii’s leader in career passing yards had less than a year to enjoy the accomplishment.

On this date in 1986, former Punahou quarterback Shawn Akina died in Salt Lake City. He was 19.

Akina was the first prep quarterback in Hawaii history to throw for 1,000 yards as a sophomore and closed his prep career with a state record 5,025. Saint Louis coach Cal Lee called him “the best pure passer we ever saw.”


Ferd Lewis of the Honolulu Advertiser wrote that with Akina and Garrett Gabriel as part of the same senior class, it was the first time in Hawaii history that college recruiters visited the island looking for a quarterback.

He was named a preseason All-American by Street and Smith magazine before his senior year and had a full scholarship offer to Hawaii but opted to walk on at Utah after reportedly striking up a friendship with Utah booster and part-time Hawaii resident Robert Rice.

Akina was a redshirt freshman for the Utes and was left home for the team’s game at Wyoming. He decided to spend the time in the weight room and started doing a set of military presses.

“He was pushing it really hard,” freshman linebacker Frank Bonifacio told the Daily Utah Chronicle. “Then after he was done, he and Cedric (Riles, another freshman) started talking. About a minute later, he grabbed his head and Cedric’s arm and his eyeballs rolled back in his head and he fell down really hard. He was mumbling something and he tried to get up but he couldn’t.
“He was convulsing and breathing real slow and then all of a sudden he closed his eyes and stopped breathing.”

Paramedics arrived on the scene within five minutes and spent 30 minutes trying to revive him. Akina was pronounced dead at the University Hospital. Akina’s teammates were told of his fate shortly after the team’s 38-14 loss.


“There wasn’t a day that he wasn’t happy,” dorm-mate Mike Murray said. “Shawn always had a song when the rest of us were too tired to even stand in the shower after practice.”

Utah officials began investigating the cause, and it turned out to be a heart attack brought on by an arrhythmia but an autopsy still left doctors puzzled.

“Why the heart developed that bad rhythym, even though it looked normal, we just don’t know,” Dr. Todd Gay of the Utah medical examiner’s office said.

Shawn Akina never really knew his father, who died of a heart condition at the age of 47 when his youngest son was three years old. His grandfather died at 55 years old. Fellow Punahou quarterback Skip Akina helped raise the record breaker.

“I’m asking all of you here and everyone in the community and everyone in Utah not to mourn my brother,” Skip Akina said in the eulogy. “He had a great life. He experienced many things. But now, for the first time, he’s able to throw a football with my father.”


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