Q&A: ‘Iolani defensive playmaker Lanakila Pei

'Iolani senior Lanakila Pei has made big play after big play this season and came up huge in the ILH Division I tiebreaker win over Damien to get the Raiders into the state tournament. Photo by Dennis Oda/Star-Advertiser.

Whether it’s early or late in the season, ‘Iolani senior linebacker/safety Lanakila Pei has often shown a knack for making the big play.

He did it again in a tie-breaker battle with Damien with a Division I state-tournament berth at stake. Pei came up with a forced fumble at the goal line, knocking the ball loose from Damien quarterback Jake Holtz. Later, he returned a fumble 18 yards for a TD as ‘Iolani hung on for a 21-14 win.


“I think he’s matured into becoming a leader. When he was a sophomore, I told him, you’re going to be the guy people look to and count on,” Raiders coach Wendell Look said. “You have to accept this whether you like it or not. He has that natural leadership quality about him, but he’s not a rah-rah outspoken guy. It took a lot for him to gain that confidence, to speak and express what he envisions for this team. That’s the most impressive part of watching him for three years.”

Look has been vehement about the lack of scholarship offers for Pei, a safety who moved to linebacker as a junior to fill a major void in the Raiders defense.

“He’s qualified (for college). He’s the full package, academically sound. I’ve never had problems with him academically, ever. To say that at our school with our curriculum and rigor, that’s not easy,” Look said. “That’s tough. That takes a special kind of kid to play at our place and be at the highest level. He’s one of them.”

Look added that recruiters have inquired about Pei and his teammates.

“The (college) coaches do ask about him. The film doesn’t lie. His transcripts don’t lie,” Look said.

If his dream doesn’t materialize, Pei said his plan would be to walk on. He doesn’t have specifics yet. His main concern the past week was the SAT, which he took for a second time even though he is already a college qualifier. His other point of focus is the upcoming state tourney.

“My main goal is to go to a good football school. It’s all God’s plan,” he said. “I’m just hoping and praying, waiting for it to come. If it doesn’t, then so be it, but I’m working hard for it.”

Here is the Q&A he did for today’s feature story.

Lanakila Pei
‘Iolani football
Q&A / Favorites

Athlete: JJ Watt, Houston Texans
He came from being a QB in high school. He got switched out of position because he couldn’t run the pitch play. Now he’s one of the top D-ends in the NFL. It’s all about adapting in sports. When you go to college, it’s not always going to be about what you played in high school. It’s all about adapting.

Team: Houston Texans
A couple years ago, when they had Matt Schaub, Arian Foster, JJ Watt, they were a good team.

Food at home: Lasagna
My mom (Angela) makes it every other week. Carb load.

Food eating out: McDonald’s and Outback (Steakhouse)
My favorite thing to eat (at Outback) is the French onion soup. It has a layer of cheese on top, and the bread. The bread.

Hobby: Going to Sandy’s beach
I used to go with my friend, Jedidiah Wataru, and bodyboard over there. Jedidiah is a junior lifeguard.

Movie: “Real Steel”
It’s in the future, no longer people fighting, but it’s robots.

What would happen if there was technology that removed injury from football?
I don’t think so. I wouldn’t want that. That’s the game, you know. It is what it is. Sometimes, it’s unfortunate when people get hurt really, really bad. We’ve already changed the game too much. There’s a lot of people getting fined a lot of money for hits they’re not intentionally making.

TV show: All-American
It’s about this athletic black boy from the hood who gets an opportunity to play at this majority white school. To me, I don’t think it’s that good of a series, but you get the idea. You know what’s happening. It’s cool.

Video game: UFC
> Me and my friend Rayden (Yamasaki) slept at Jed’s house for two weeks in a row playing UFC for a long time.

Music artist: Fiji
> My favorite song is Jowenna.

Teacher: Mrs. Dara Kuioka
> She retired two years ago. I didn’t really do that good in her class. I got a C in Algebra 1C. But I could go to extra help and not be ashamed to ask questions. I had a good connection with her.

Class: Hawaiian Language
> I started my freshman year, so this is my fourth year. I took it in super well. I clicked with it. I used to go to Punana Leo when I was in preschool. I think that’s why it was a little easier. When I hear songs, I want to be able to understand what they’re saying.

GPA: 3.0

> I don’t really have one.

What does mom say that you cannot forget? Never keep God out of your life.
> Sometimes, I’ll be having a hard time, you know, especially seeing all these people being offered. I know I can play. Just not getting (scholarship offers). It kind of gets frustrating after awhile, especially if me and my dad get into it. ‘You’re not offered, you’ve got to work harder.’ I’m trying. Sometimes, I’m, God, why do you do this to me?’ I just get upset with it. My mom, and my grandpa (Butch Correa), too, ‘Don’t forget God. He’s the one that put you in this situation in the first place.’

What does dad (Meki) say that you can’t forget? You’ve got to work harder

What do your coaches say? Coach Wendell, one thing he says, is we’re different.
> We’re not the same as everybody else. Because we’re different, we’ve got to do things a different way.

How does football affect your life year-round?
> I train with my uncle (Laanui Correa) at his house. I have a steep hill my house. I run from the bottom and work my way up.

What’s your least-favorite offseason training?
> Probably intervals. We run three 400s (laps), four 200 meters, and five 100 meters. I’m so dead. You’ve got to make it under time. The 400-meter (maximum time) is 1:20. The 200s, that’s 30-something (seconds). The 100 is 17 (seconds).

Middle and elementary schools: Niu Valley Middle, Aiea Haina Elementary

Youth sports
> I played flag football when I was 4. I played tackle at Hawaii Kai Dolphins two years after that. I played quarterback, running back and linebacker. It was fun. And I was the kicker. After Pop Warner, I came here (to ‘Iolani) in seventh grade.

What was the biggest difference?
> Size. Not being the biggest dog. I played basketball, soccer and baseball. I used to love baseball. It’s fun, I really used to like it. Seventh grade, that was probably my favorite (baseball) season. I was OK with leaving baseball.

Where have you traveled for sports?
> Nowhere, except we went to play Lahainaluna one time.

What is something you like to do that would surprise people?
> I can pick up numerous sports and not be junk at them. I love tennis. I played soccer my eighth grade year here. I used to play racquetball with my grandpa at the Y. He goes every week.

Time machine
> The future’s going to happen, so I’d go to the past. You can’t go back, so probably when my grandparents were younger. My dad’s dad from American Samoa, I’d want to see what he was like. I’ve been there before, but I was a baby. I don’t remember him. My dad’s parents passed away, and my mom’s mom passed away, so probably, I’d go back to when they were all alive.

Bucket list
> Play in the NFL and buy a nice house for my parents. I’d go to Tahiti. Super nice water. Italy.

History of your name
> Meki is my dad’s name. I don’t know what it means. I don’t have his full name, which is Mekimalalapei. My name is Meki Lanakilanokameaoiesu Pei. Lanakila means victory. No ka mea is because. O is of and Iesu is Jesus. My mom chose my name. Coach Wendell calls me Mek most of the time.

What about your last name?
> My dad is Samoan. It was longer before, but I guess we cut it to three letters. I don’t know even know. My mom is German, Hawaiian, Ukrainian, Portuguese, German, Irish.

Shout outs
> Shout out to my family, my boys, my teammates, my coaches, my teachers.


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