HONOLULU - Among the Arizona State football players, Brandon Rodd has been a oneman Hawaii chamber of commerce, informing teammates about the food, sights and other unique aspects of this postseason destination.
He has spoken fondly of his kaona — Hawaiian for neighborhood — in his hometown of Aiea, and notes that he will have about 100 friends and family members in attendance at Sunday’s Hawaii Bowl.
Rodd, an ASU offensive lineman, is Hawaiian through and through, and proud of it. But when deciding where he would play college football, he did not allow his strong ties to the state to bind him.
“I had to get off the island,” said Rodd, a junior. “My mother told me that she got stuck on the rock, and she didn’t want me to be stuck.”
Rodd is one of three Sun Devils who played high school football in Hawaii. Fellow offensive linemen Shawn Lauvao and Ian Scheuring, both from Honolulu, also resisted the pull of the home-state University of Hawaii and decided to come to the mainland.
For the ASU trio and many other players who grow up in Hawaii, the most important factor on where to play collegiately has little to do with football: Whether or not living in such a remote location, as beautiful as it is, has made them stir-crazy.
“Hawaii has a lot of good high school football players, and for many, staying home to play is a good fit,” said Lauvao, a freshman reserve. “But then again, you have guys who want to go other places, just to see what it is like.”
A fourth Sun Devil, junior defensive lineman Alex Fa’agai, was born in Honolulu and lived on the same street as Lauvao, but he attended high school and junior college in northern California.
While rarely mentioned in the same breath as recruiting hotbeds California, Florida and Texas, Hawaii is a youth football hotbed. Per capita, Hawaii ranks near the top among the 50 states in producing Division I-A and NFL players, and the big-school state championship game at Aloha Stadium is always a big draw.
“There are some good football players over there,” ASU coach Dirk Koetter said. “Some of those kids go to Hawaii, others want to go somewhere else. If you can get a Polynesian presence established in your program, it’s something you can build with.”
For years, however, the University of Hawaii had difficulty keeping other schools from raiding the state’s talent. The Warriors did not have the same kind of tractor beam that makes Ohio boys dream of suiting up for Ohio State or Los Angeles kids for Southern California.
Many Hawaii players, due to the strong Mormon church presence in Polynesia — a group of Pacific islands that includes Hawaii, Samoa and Tonga — migrated to Brigham Young and Utah.
“I found that a lot of players, as they started to get into high school, didn’t look at UH very hard,” said Scheuring, a freshman walk-on.
“But that is starting to change with the success that Hawaii has had as of late. There were a couple of years when the state’s top guys decided to go somewhere else.”
With Hawaii posting six straight non-winning records from 1993-98, the school gave local players little reason to stay home. When June Jones arrived as coach in ’99, only 17 of the 105 players were of Polynesian descent.
Thanks to five winning records since then, the Warriors’ in-state recruiting fortunes have improved greatly. The retirement of BYU coach LaVell Edwards — who constructed the Polynesian pipeline to Provo, Utah — after the 2001 season did not hurt.
Now, 76 Polynesians are on the Warriors’ roster.
“We’ve been able to keep more of them,” Jones said. “I would say that, out of my eight years here, we’ve been able to keep 100 percent of the Hawaii kids we wanted probably five times, and the other years weren’t bad, either.
“Out of 20 kids in a class, there are always going to be four or five that want to go to the mainland no matter what. We try to identify them early, and then back off.”
Rodd was a player that Hawaii missed on. Jones offered him a scholarship, despite the likelihood that he was headed to the continental U.S. Lauvao would have gone to Hawaii but balked because the school wanted him to play defense.
Both found homes at ASU, which since the Frank Kush days has been a popular choice among Pacific-island natives. The Sun Devils’ roster includes 14 players with Polynesian roots.
“We’ve built a good track record with those kids,” Koetter said. “The best thing about it is when we recruit Polynesian kids, our current ones are a big help in that process. No one hits 100 percent of the players they want, but we have developed nice contacts in that part of the world.”
On Sunday, Rodd and Lauvao — Scheuring has not played this season because of injury — will play as collegians in Hawaii, if only for a day. Rodd said that the Hawaii Bowl experience is fun, but it has also affirmed that he made the right decision to play elsewhere.
“I think people realize that Hawaii is a great school, but there are so many things for guys to do (on the mainland), experience life and see the world a bit,” Rodd said.