Koali Nishigaya has been a reliable target in the Saint Louis receiving corps, catching 68 passes for 909 yards and six touchdowns in his two seasons of varsity ball.
But the sure-handed receiver recognizes the stakes heading into his senior season. Coaches and teammates have raved about Nishigaya in the past, but he still remains lightly recruited, even as a staple on a consensus top-10 team nationally.
“Not really a lot right now,” he said when asked of college interest. “I’m talking to a couple of schools but hopefully more will come.”
Nishigaya’s summer was off to an auspicious start on Wednesday evening at the GPA Football Showcase at Kamehameha as one of six skill players to receive an individual offensive award. His speed and crisp route running was on full display during 7-on-7’s, joining ‘Iolani quarterback Jonah Chong as the only two players to earn the award unanimously.
“Very hungry. This is my year. I’m just trying to prove myself, prove that I can play with the big dogs,” Nishigaya said. “My teammates are so supportive and I appreciate them. They make me a better player.
“I was just playing how I was taught to play, just working on my technique from my coaches and the hard training this offseason. I think that’s what helped me do good today.”
Chong also impressed during 7-on-7’s and was one of three quarterbacks to win an award, joined by Kapolei’s Christian Rapis and Mililani’s Brendyn Agbayani, the possible heir to Dillon Gabriel, the state’s all-time leader in passing yardage.
On defense, Kahuku linebacker Aaron Fonoimoana-Vaomu’s presence was felt both vocally and with his tight coverage during scrimmages. He was appropriately given one of the five awards for that side of the ball.
“I was just going out on the field and having fun,” Fonoimoana-Vaomu said. “Mainly having fun, but working out with all the other boys, getting to know them and making new friends. It’s a small island, so you gotta play all around.”
The Red Raiders were knocked out of last year’s HHSAA Open Division semifinals, breaking a streak of three straight appearances in the state championship game. Fonoimoana-Vaomu says it’s all the more motivation to get back to the big one this season.
“I’m pumped because last year, we didn’t do so well,” he said. “We lost in the playoffs and that’s not Kahuku right there. We’re gonna come back harder and hungrier, so I’m looking forward to it.”
Part of the two-day event at Kapalama involved activities off the field, including classroom sessions.
“Oh, I loved that experience. It taught me more about how valuable the education is in college, especially at Navy where there’s a good education up there,” Fonoimoana-Vaomu said. “Me and my brother (Alex), that’s the only scholarship that we have together so we might go up there.”
Before the 11 individual awards were announced, coaches from each college in attendance took turns giving a speech to all the campers. Coaches from California, Texas, Oregon, Illinois and Colorado representing NCAA Division II and III schools, as well as NAIA and junior colleges gave their own messages about their respective teams, but all stressed the same thing in one way or another: maintaining decent grades in order to play.
“It was good, I was just trying to soak up everything I could learn,” Nishigaya said. “It’s just a blessing being out here.”
Defensive awards, presented by Asai Gilman
Kalen Davis-White (12), OLB, Hilo
Iona Purcell (9), ILB, Saint Louis
Aaron Fonoimoana-Vaomu (12), OLB, Kahuku
Branston Gasper-Birgado (12), DB, Kapolei
Asher Pilanca (12), DB, Mililani
Offensive awards, presented by Vince Passas
Skyler Ramos (12), WR, Kamehameha
Devon Sa-Chisholm (11), WR, Lahainaluna
Christian Rapis (11), QB, Kapolei
Brendyn Agbayani (11), QB, Mililani
Koali Nishigaya (12), WR, Saint Louis
Jonah Chong (12) QB, ‘Iolani