Club football is about to become available to college students across Hawaii via a program called Hawaii 8.
The plan, which is being put forth by the nonprofit Hawaii Football Club of Hilo, is to put five teams on the field for competition next spring and beyond.
The hope is for the five-team conference to eventually become eight, according to HFC executive director Keala Pule.
Some big names from Hawaii high school football — former Kahuku coach Reggie Torres and former Waianae coach Walter Young — have agreed to be two of the head coaches, while Andrew Chun is slated to lead Hilo’s Moku O Keawe Football Club.
Players can participate in one of the five area clubs — the others are Leeward Football Club (Oahu), the Windward Football Club (Oahu), the Kauai Football Club, the Maui Football Club — and Hawaii 8 is ready to start forming them and stocking them with student-athletes.
A planned expansion, with areas in West Hawaii and two areas in Honolulu, will eventually bring the total to eight.
The clubs are loosely based (not officially tied to a school) on their geographical area campuses — Hawaii Community College, Leeward Community College, Windward Community College, Kauai Community College and UH Maui College. In the future, Honolulu Community College, Kapiolani Community College and HCC-Palamanui in Kailua-Kona would be the added area campuses.
“We will spend this spring and summer recruiting for those five areas,” Pule said. “The season will run during the spring semester so we don’t interfere with youth and high school football. All of our head coaches will be assembling their staffs in the coming weeks. We will also be having informational meetings across the state for all interested students and their families.”
The other head coaches Stacy Iwasaki on Kauai and Aylett Wallwork on Maui.
“A lot of potential college students leave the islands to pursue their dreams and aspirations of continuing in athletics and our Hawaii families’ hard earned money is going into other communities,” Pule said.”We can support our communities and campuses better. We are targeting students transitioning from high school to college who want to earn their two-year degree or continue move on to get a four-year degree. There are a lot of kids who don’t leave Hawaii for college for various reasons and others return from a mainland college without a degree. We are offering another option for students to earn a degree and play football.”
This plan, if it works, could be a blueprint for other sports such as baseball, soccer, volleyball, basketball and softball to join forces with Hawaii 8, and leaders in some of those sports have expressed interest, Pule said.
Hawaii 8’s board members have had meetings with community college chancellors and say they support the idea even though the schools are not officially tied in, according to Pule.
“They all love it,” Pule said. “They all want the opportunity to meet the needs of students who they have not reached out to in the past. They hope it will eventually bring a new-found energy.”
Funding for Hawaii 8’s equipment, fields, uniforms, officials, transportation and insurance will funnel through HFC by private sponsors, membership and fundraising.
“We have had verbal commitments from sponsors and now that we’ve announced our plans, HFC leaders can start rallying support,” Pule said.
Membership costs for players will be comparable to a youth football player’s expenses, according to Pule.
“We’ve got practice venues identified, game venues identified and a tentative schedule in place,” he added.
Torres, who won five OIA titles and three state championships with the Red Raiders, is HFC’s assistant director and the director of football operations. Doris Sullivan, who has helped many Hawaii high school athletes fulfill their college dreams by facilitating connections to institutions, is also on the seven-member board. She will be a liaison for college football programs interested in recruiting student-athletes from Hawaii 8 clubs and will help the organization in meeting NCAA compliance and eligibility requirements.
Although Hawaii 8 is not a part of the NCAA, players begin their NCAA eligibility clock (generally five years to play four) once they become a full-time college student. There is no age limit for players.
“Hawaii 8 will provide you the opportunity to play college athletics in front of your family and friends,” said Young, who spent four years as the Seariders’ coach. “Our goal is to support our community colleges and help our students build their academic resume.”
Torres is excited.
“It is with enthusiasm that I extend an invitation to anyone who wants to get a college education while playing football,” he said. “Joining Hawaii 8 will give the student-athlete a chance to join a ground-breaking venture bent on developing life skills and attaining a college degree while opening the door to future successes and opportunities.”
According to Pule, students from UH-Hilo and UH’s Manoa campus UH West Oahu and (and possibly from other private schools in the state) will also be eligible to participate. Club/area affiliation will not be 100 percent based on which school a student-athlete goes to, but all clubs won’t be able to have more than 25 percent of their roster from campuses outside their designated area.