A few years have passed since Will Putnam called Ewa Beach home.
Back then, he was a 6-foot-1 (6-1 and a half, to be precise), 215-pound seventh grader. The Ewa Beach Sabers were his team. His biggest motivators: coaches Galu Tagovailoa and Phil Faoa.
“That’s where you grow into becoming a young man mentally and spiritually, and also with football skills,” Putnam said by phone on Wednesday night from Chatham, Ill, where his family moved two years ago. “I don’t think it could’ve happened anywhere else but Ewa Beach.”
In the two short years since his family left the islands, Putnam has collected football scholarship offers from Illinois and Pitt.
Those formative years were filled with work, fun and, well, growth.
“I was eating a lot. You get big in Hawaii,” he said.
You get big in the Midwest, too. Putnam, just 15, is now 6-4 and 250 pounds. He plays guard and defensive line.
The Putnam ohana was transferred to Illinois — dad Neil Putnam is in the Army — before he entered the eighth grade. There, he found more success not just in football, but in wrestling. He became the state’s eighth-grade champion in his weight class.
Before freshman year at his new school, Glenwood, Putnam was served head-spinning news: Illinois became the first to make him a football scholarship offer. Last week, Pitt came calling not long after he participated in their on-campus camp. He is just completing his sophomore year.
“It was pretty crazy for me,” Putnam said of the first offer. “I was going as hard as I could at camp. The head coach shook my hand and offered (after camp). I was shocked.”
Still, Putnam can’t forget the islands.
“Ewa Beach is a really special place. The people are special and they’re proud to be from Ewa Beach,” he said. “So am I.”
The edge for many athletes living on the continent is basic.
“Pitt’s about a seven-hour drive. That’s one advantage of living on the mainland,” said Putnam, who has more camps lined up. “Next week, I’m going to Michigan State, Notre Dame and Iowa.”
The invite to bask in the glow of Touchdown Jesus at South Bend, Ind., has a significant wow factor.
“I got the invitation (from Notre Dame) just recently,” he said, noting that the camps cover an eight-day span.
The wrestling and football talent explains why his favorite athletes are Brock Lesnar and J.J. Watt. But Putnam has a third athlete as a wild-card favorite.
“J.J. Watt and Brock Lesnar are my favorite athletes, but Rob Gronkowski is who I’d want to hang out with,” Putnam said. “Gronk is a funny guy.”
Life would have been a bit different had he remained in Hawaii.
“If I’d stayed one more year, my coaches would’ve talked me into going to Saint Louis,” he said.
Probably so. Coach Tagovailoa’s oldest son, Tua, is entering his third year as a starting quarterback and has already orally committed to Alabama.
School: Glenwood High School (Chatham, Ill.)
Will’s Box of Favorites
Athlete: Brock Lesnar, who is coming out of retirement. “Honestly, I think he’s doing it for the money. It’s a bigger chance for him to get beat, but he knows himself better than anyone else.”
Team: Pittsburgh Steelers. “My dad’s from Pennsylvania.”
Food at home: Hamburgers. “My dad makes them. They’re the best. Anything from the grill by my dad is amazing.”
Food eating out: Chicken wings. “Buffalo Wild Wings makes the best by far.”
Food you can cook: Mac n’ cheese.
Spot to hang out: pool/gym.
Activity/hobby outside sports: swimming/fishing.
Class: History. “American Literature is pretty interesting.”
Teacher (past or current): Mr. Palmer (Ilima Middle). “My seventh-grade history teacher, Mr. Palmer, was, by far, the best I ever had. He made everything interesting.”
Your Top 5 proudest moments:
Winning middle school state for wrestling
Receiving my first football scholarship offer
Getting an A+ on my Geometry project
First time I was ever able to do a pull up
When I could first bench 135
GPA: 4.6 (5.0 scale).
TV show: Prison break.
Video game: NHL.
Board game: Sorry.
Paper, scissors or rock: Rock.
Your motto: There is no traffic on the extra mile.
Key to success: “Stay focused. There’s a lot of other things going on in normal high school life. I’ve got to keep my goals. I write them in my notes on my phone.”
Name your youth league teams growing up: SYA (Virginia), Kapolei Islanders, Ewa Beach Sabers.
Your sanctuary: Weight room in my garage.
Probable college major: No idea.
Dream college: Notre Dame, Michigan State.
Best job outside of playing pro football: Military.
Your hero: My cat Steve.
Your dad’s most important advice: “Remember you’re a Putnam.”
Your mom’s (Shirley) most important advice: “Don’t do anything to make your mother cry.”
Something about you that would surprise most people: “I have ticklish feet.”
Top 10 things to do on your bucket list:
Go to Iceland
Be a millionaire
Play the guitar
Do a backflip
Rip a phone book in half
Beat Jon Wiezorik in a wrestling match
Buy my dad a big, nice grill
Be able to touch my palms to the floor while my knees are straight
Hang out with Rob Gronkowski