Jesse Sapolu. Maa Tanuvasa. Leo Goeas.
Somehow, it’s perfectly fitting that some of the biggest names from Hawaii who ended up starring in the NFL were on a football field on a hot afternoon working with high school players.
The GPA Showcase kicked off on Tuesday at Kunuiakea Stadium with kicking-game specialists at noon. Then came offensive and defensive linemen, followed by skill-position prospects. All of the athletes are looking for knowledge and exposure. On hand are dozens of college coaches, from D-I universities to D-II and junior colleges.
The players are all works in progress, and coaches like Sapolu — who runs his own Men in Trenches linemen camp across the mainland — are all business.
“It’s just passing it over. These kids have more opportunities than when I came through. There are guys who back then who held you by the hand and led me through,” said Sapolu, a key offensive linemen during the San Francisco 49ers’ dynasty in the 1980s and ’90s. “We want to make sure they get an education. That’s the No. 1 goal here. Thinking about playing on Sundays is something that’s so far beyond this. Rich (Miano) and Marcus Mariota’s foundation has done a nice job with this and I’m just honored to be part of it.”
The former Farrington standout and the staff worked rep by rep, OL versus DL, individual vs. individual as the 150-minute session closed. Sapolu may be from another, classic, Super Bowl-dynasty generation, but fundamentals are at his core of teaching. In a pass-heavy modern game, he and the O-line staff focused on run and pass blocking.
“It’s still tougher now. Sometimes the kids learn so many things, their fundamentals aren’t as solid. If you talk to people in the NFL, they will tell you that the linemen that come from college are worse fundamentally,” Sapolu said. “It’s going back to the drawing board, making sure that their fundamentals are sound so when they go back to their schools, their coaches have an easier time teaching the scheme part of things. There wasn’t specialized linemen play back in the day. I’m glad that we have it now.”
The session on Wednesday with be more pass-protection oriented. Sapolu was already back in the islands when he got word about teammate Dwight Clark, who died on Monday from ALS. He was 61.
“I’m saddened because I was supposed to go and visit him in Montana in July. We have a group that used to go and have lunch with him every Tuesday in Santa Cruz. Eddie DeBartolo moved him to Montana. We have groups that try to go up there and I was going in July, and then I heard the news yesterday. He was part of the biggest play in our history that started our dynasty. He will always be remembered as that,” Sapolu said. “I’m a kid from Kalihi that became teammates with him. In this game, you form a brotherhood. Now you feel like you’ve lost a family member.”
Former San Francisco 49ers offensive lineman Jesse Sapolu talks about teammate Dwight Clark, who died on Monday from ALS. pic.twitter.com/EG8TrmEiBr
— Star-Advertiser (@StarAdvertiser) June 6, 2018