They call him the funniest guy on the team.
One of them, anyway. Koali Nishigaya’s reputation preceded his breakout as a dynamo on the football field. Just about every Crusader said that Nishigaya and Kamo‘i Latu were the funniest among them. A lot of his teammates also predicted a huge season on the field for the senior slotback.
Months of daily training paid off for Nishigaya, who leads Saint Louis in receptions, receiving yardage and touchdown catches. But the comedy he brings is much more understated. He’s not about to script a stand-up routine.
“No ways, I don’t think I’m that funny,” he said. “I like watching Kevin Hart. He’s funny I saw the show when he came down here. It was a good 9. Even the guys who performed before him, they were funny.”
He sets aside the jokes when it’s time to work. He leads the unbeaten Crusaders (8-0, ranked No. 6 nationally) with 47 receptions, 699 yards and seven TDs.
“When I’m on the field, it’s all business,” Nishigaya said. “I told myself I want to be great. I had to work for it. The hard work is really paying off.”
He always trained in the offseason, but the past six months have been a nonstop, daily grind. He hit the beaches with brothers Keani and Kaua to do sprints, cone drills, routes and anything else that could sharpen Koali’s skills and athleticism. He hit the gym every day. Ran the hill nearby.
“It is tiring. It’s stuff you have to do to get better. No short cuts,” he said. “Work on my sets.”
And yet, Nishigaya hasn’t triggered a scholarship offer. Head coach Cal Lee and offensive coordinator Ron Lee, both former college coaches, said they wouldn’t hesitate to scoop Nishigaya up. Nationally-ranked Bishop Gorman learned about him when he collected 10 passes for 103 yards and a TD in Saint Louis’ 31-19 win.
Nishigaya stepped up as a running back, scoring two TDs to help the Crusaders rally past No. 2 Punahou 25-19. No. 3 Mililani contained him with fairly good results for nearly a half. Then he erupted with TD plays of 75 and 64 yards in a 54-21 win. Nishigaya finished with five catches for 263 yards.
“If you can cut on the sand, then on the turf, you’ll cut the way you’re really supposed to. He’s doing the work and sometimes I’d run with him. His other brother (former ‘Iolani RB Kaua) still runs with him,” Keani said. “Shoot, I’m real proud and happy for him, but I’m not surprised. I knew since he was real young he had talent. With his skill set, you’ve got to have one or two really big games before people’s eyes are on you. I was pushing him because it’s his last year, so he can have no regrets in the future, but he was also motivated as well.”
Nishigaya, who is drawing comparisons to former Roosevelt and Hawaii standout Chad Owens, chatted with Hawaii Prep World on Sunday.
Saint Louis football
Q&A / Favorites
Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers
> I like his game. He can play running back, slot. He can go wherever and make plays. They doubted him. He proved them wrong. I like Julian Edelman, too. He’s unguardable in the slot. He was underrated. as well. New England has a lot of those kinds of players. That’s why they’re good. They get those kinds of players and develop them.
> They’ve got to give Deshaun Watson time. He’s always scrambling and getting out of the pocket.
Food at home
> My mom (Kawohi) makes good ham. She cuts it up and puts sauce on it. She uses guava jam. She usually cooks it at Thanksgiving so I’m looking forward to that. I’m always eating the leftovers.
Food eating out
> I like Japanese food, sushi. I like whatevers, I just like sashimi.
> I like watching basketball and playing basketball. It’s fun. It’s competitive. I play pickup games with my friends, Jayden (de Laura) and all the boys.
“The Longest Yard”
> The actual game, when they play the guards. That’s pretty entertaining.
> I don’t play video games. Everybody doesn’t believe me, but I don’t play video games. I’m too busy working out. It’s a good break for people. But I haven’t actually played Fortnite.
> Everybody’s probably going to hate on that, but I like him. I overplay his songs. My girlfriend is irritated by it. I like his flow. I like his song, “Noticed.”
If you weren’t an athlete, would you GPA be higher?
> Maybe higher because your focus would be solely on academics.
Are you a qualifier for college?
> I just took my SAT this weekend, so I’m waiting on my scores. I should’ve taken my SAT earlier. If I could go back, I’d definitely take it earlier.
> With God, all things are possible (Matt. 19:26).
What does mom always say?
> She always told us that from a young age.
What does dad (Myles) always say?
> He’s the one who says keep pushing, the (scholarship) offers will come. We train together.
Middle and elementary schools
> I went to Saint Louis in seventh grade.
How does football affect your life in the offseason?
> Not that much. I lift at the gym in Waikele. In the summer, I come here every day for film with Coach Ron (Lee). Videos of practice. It’s the extra work we put in. It prepares us for the season, so it definitely helps. At first, I was kind of, what? But you learn to like it. If you make the littlest mistake, they’ll tell you what you need to improve.
What youth sports did you play?
Wrestling, basketball, flag football
> I practiced wrestling all over. I went to a lot of clubs with my brothers. I played KAC basketball until I was around 12. Wrestling with my brothers made me tough. Taught me a lot. I played at Kalani Falcons with Coach Tupu (Alualu). Coach Tupu’s my guy. He tries to help me out with everything like colleges. He has connections so I appreciate him.
Where have you traveled for sports?
> The 7v7 in Florida (Adidas), that was a good experience. We proved a lot of them wrong. That definitely got me better. Jayden and me had a good connection. We also went to Vegas Pylon with Coach Tupu.
What are you good at that would surprise people?
> I’m a good 3-point shooter.
What do your coaches say?
Big-time players make big-time plays in big moments.
> I’d probably go back in time and talk to my grandpa (Albert Silva). He passed away around 2012. I’d talk to him when he was a young man. He’s like a typical Portuguese man. Whatever’s on his mind, he’d tell you straight up. He was just different. He was hard on me, but it was out of love. He’d always come to my games when I was little. It’s tough, but he’s in a better place. He and my grandma are in a better place.
> I definitely want to get a scholarship for college. And get a degree. Those are on my bucket list. I want to travel the world. I want to go to Japan. New York City.
What is the history and background of your name?
> My auntie on Maui, there’s a small town on Maui called Koali. I never really asked about it. Kahaiolelo is my middle name. I’m not too sure what it means. My dad’s dad was Nishigaya. I should definitely look it up.
> I’d credit all my success to my dad. He’s the one from a young age who really taught me everything. He trained me from a young age and always believed in me. Even ’til this day.
> And shoutout to everyone who voted for me (in the USA Super25 player of the week). All the support. The second time, it was advertised more. Thank you.
Did you know?
Nishigaya injured his elbow and knee during wrestling season as a freshman. He placed fifth in the state (138) as a sophomore, defeating Punahou’s Vincent Terrell in his last match, then retired to focus on football.