It’s been a long journey for Kelii Kekuewa, who graduated from Kamehameha in 2010 and then began his collegiate football coaching career.
After playing at Arizona Western and Bowling Green, he was an assistant at Wake Forest and Notre Dame, where a connection helped him land an interview for an NFL team.
Two weeks ago, he applied for an offensive assistant position with the Seattle Seahawks, interviewed and got hired. He spent a week in Seattle, and then the coronavirus hit and things turned upside down.
He flew back to South Bend, Ind., and is working from home and keeping his wife, Namele, company. The couple still has to pack and get ready to move to Seattle sometime in April.
When he was at Arizona Western and Bowling Green, playing in the NFL never really entered his mind. It was the same when he started coaching. But sometimes a golden ticket is right at your door.
“I never thought I’d get in the NFL,” he said. “It was always a dream, and I thought it would be cool. My goal was to be the best college coach. Then this opportunity came up at Notre Dame. I’ve been blessed to get that opportunity for this job.”
It’s quite a promotion for Kekuewa, who was a defensive line graduate assistant for the Irish, who finished 11-2 this past season and 14th in the nation in scoring offense with 36.8 points per game.
Though Kekuewa coached on the defensive side of the ball, he grew up playing on the offensive line and understands how blocking schemes work, a reason he was hired.
“Right now, I’m doing phone conversations with the coaches and learning the playbook,” he said. “I’m working with the O-line coach and breaking down film, what I was doing at the time.”
Kekuewa has one link to the Seahawks in offensive guard Phil Haynes, who played at Wake Forest.
While at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center, the Seahawks’ headquarters, in Renton, Wash., Kekuewa met coach Pete Carroll and found him exactly as the media has portrayed him.
“He’s awesome to talk with, very knowledgeable, and a guy who cares how you are,” he said. “He’s very positive. I felt excited to be there and more positive about going to work. There’s a positive vibe that he brings.”
Kekuewa is hoping to bring the knowledge he learned at the collegiate level from Notre Dame’s pro-style offense with sprinkles of the spread element and Wake Forest’s run-pass-option attack.
The Seahawks run the West Coast offense but use RPO plays to capitalize on quarterback Russell Wilson’s athleticism. In 2019, he rushed for 342 yards on 75 attempts.
But he also signed a $140 million, four-year contract extension, so allowing the team’s cash cow to be out in the open is always a risk. It’ll be Kekuewa’s job to be part of that discussion when creating game plans.
“I want to bring my knowledge and be part of the group,” he said. “The staff is great. In the short time I’ve been there, they’re willing to help me out and talk ball. The staff is very open, and the biggest highlight is they want to see you grow.”
The toughest part of the journey has been the time away from home. The football stuff is relatable. It’s the same concepts with different terminology.
“I’ve been away from home for 10 years,” he said. “I come back to visit. At Christmas time, there were bowl games. The hardest part is being away from home and family. My whole career I’ve been on the East Coast. I’ve never had a job on the West Coast. My family does their best to visit me.”
At least he’s much closer to home. And while he’s in South Bend, he can study the playbook and help Namele move for the third time in the last 2 1/2 years, capping a long but welcome journey.