Hilo running back Kahale Huddleston and Konawaena quarterback Austin Ewing have put up monster numbers all over the place and entertained football fans on the Big Island and Oahu.
But the two seniors have never played in front of a plethora of college coaches. That’s the handicap of playing ball in Hawaii, more than 2,400 miles away from the Power Five and Group of Five schools.
That inconvenience is gone with both participating in the second annual Polynesian Bowl, which starts at 6 p.m. Saturday at Aloha Stadium and will be televised on ESPN3.
College coaches from across the country will scout the game from their living room couches. One reason is the number of uncommitted blue-chip recruits, like Team Makai quarterback Tanner McKee, from Corona, Calif., and Team Mauka safety Isaac Taylor-Stuart, from Mesa, Calif.
With the new early signing period, the Polynesian Bowl serves as a golden opportunity for players who are still looking for a college home.
The early signing period ran from Dec. 20-22 last year. The next signing period starts Feb. 7.
Huddleston and Ewing are still keeping their options open. Both share the same mindset. They can’t wait to get in the game and show what they’ve got.
“It’s a great experience with all the other guys coming from different places and battling with them,” Huddleston said. “It’s way different from the Big Island, but it’s fun.”
The speed-burning Viking was discovered when he torched Iolani in a preseason 62-35 blowout. He rushed for 244 yards and four touchdowns on only 13 carries and added kickoff-return scores of 99 and 98 yards.
Ewing, who has a knack for extending plays and pulling rabbits out of a hat, made his biggest mark at the HHSAA Division II state tournament in a seven-overtime 75-69 loss to Lahainaluna. He went 33 of 55 for 266 yards and three touchdowns. He had no interceptions, perhaps the most amazing stat.
The Team Makai quarterback was a late addition. Ewing was called five days before the first practice. He’ll need to capitalize on his playing time when McKee sits on the bench.
There’s the rub. There are a number of five star, four, three and two-star recruits on both rosters. Playing time will be a valuable commodity.
“This bowl game is so big, and it’s so amazing getting to play with some of the best athletes in the 2018 class,” Ewing said. “I’m looking forward to showing college coaches that I can play with some of the best players in the country.”
The colleges with unlimited recruiting bankrolls that do come to Hawaii all head to the football factory at Kahuku or drive to town to visit Saint Louis coach Cal Lee. To borrow Anthony Bourdain’s phrase, it’s still parts unknown on the Big Island as far as recruiting.
“It’s really hard because you have to put yourself out there more,” Huddleston said. “You have to send film to the schools and go to camps on the mainland, so it takes a lot of time and money to get noticed. It’s different compared to the mainland. They get put on TV, so it’s easier for them.”
Still, Huddleston has made a nice habit of smashing barriers. Who would have thought the BIIF’s 0 for 19 streak at states would be broken? There’s Kahale raising his hand and nodding his head.
Despite being the focal point of Damien’s defense, he rushed for 99 yards and two TDs on 19 carries, for a 4.8-yard average, in Hilo’s 35-19 win for the Division I state title, the league’s first on the gridiron.
“Hopefully, I’ll go show how much I can play and get noticed,” said Huddleston, who’s on Team Mauka.
Ewing has the same motivation.
But he also carries a big chip on his shoulder, and interestingly enough that’s Tom Brady’s inspirational fire. Being downgraded as a sixth-round draft pick was Brady’s deal. Ewing played on the Division II level.
“I hope to show my ability as a QB because I know people will say that I played in a lower division,” Ewing said. “I want to prove that I can play with the best players in the country and show them I can play QB at the next level.”
A lot of people will be watching, including an unknown number of college coaches from the convenience of their living room couches.