The winner’s edge: Hilo stalwart Kalen White plans to stand tall at Pacific Lutheran

  • PARISH KALEIWAHEA photo Kalen White played in the last three HHSAA Division I football title games with Hilo High, intercepting this pass in 2018.

Kalen White built a lot of good memories during his time on the Hilo High football team, winning four BIIF titles and two HHSAA championships.

The 5-foot-9 linebacker signed to play ball at Pacific Lutheran University, a Division III school in Tacoma, Wash., where gridiron prosperity happens in small doses.

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The Lutes (2-7 in 2019) play in the Northwest Conference, which is ruled by Linfield. They last had a winning season (5-4) in 2016 and reached the conference championships in 2013, when they lost to Linfield.

White was happy to sign to play anywhere. He also attracted interest from Division II Missouri Southern State and NWC rival Pacific, home to tons of Hawaii kids.

“Signing with PLU was just a huge accomplishment of having the chance to continue playing at the next level, no matter what the division was,” he said. “PLU offered me an academics scholarship.”

Konawaena wide receivers Marc Basa and Jesse Canda also signed with PLU.

“I’m actually happy that they’re both going to PLU because even though they were rivals it doesn’t matter anymore,” White said. “Things will change, and we’ll most likely build our bond together on a new team.”

He also may see a fellow Viking teammate in the foreseeable future.

“I know Layne Deperalta will be trying to transfer to PLU next year,” White said.

White went to the GPA showcase on Oahu the past two summers and hooked up with coach Rick Daley and liked the campus when he visited last summer during a football camp.

“I liked the campus environment,” said White, who’ll major in business. “It kind of feels like Hilo, just a lot colder.”

The Lutes will need White’s help. They finished near the bottom in the conference in yards, passing and rushing yards allowed.

“They like how I can read and react quickly and how I can come down the field to lay the wood,” White said.

He knows he isn’t jumping into a reload situation like in Hilo. The Lutes gave up 318.1 passing yards per game, third worst in the NWC.

If you can’t collapse the pocket, opposing quarterbacks sit back, eat lunch and shred the secondary.

“I feel like I might not be used to it coming out of our last undefeated season,” he said. “But it’s just another stage of adversity, and I hope that I can go there and make a difference for the team and program.”

White will face a healthy crop of competition for playing time at linebacker. There are eight returnees and two other recruits in the 2020 class.

But if there’s anything that fuels him, it’s a reference to his height. There aren’t a lot of impactful 5-9 linebackers, but he’s one of them as the BIIF defensive player of the year.

“My height has motivated me to work harder because most coaches don’t look at linebackers who are 5-9, so I had to work stand out being shorter than most linebackers,” he said.

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White did stand out and had one good lasting memory as a Viking.

“I’ll never forget when ‘big boot’ hit the 55-yard field goal,” he said, referring to Keanu Keolanui’s kick to seal a 20-17 win over Iolani for the state title last November.

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