Dick Harmon: BYU's Sitake wants former Cougar to be program's new director of personnel
Kalani Sitake wanted Jack Damuni to fly from Maui to be in Provo for BYU’s letter of intent signing day a week ago.
Damuni, a Cougar defensive back in the early '90s post-Detmer era, made that trip happen as fast as a plane would carry him. He hovered around the football offices that day, hung out with staffers and former players and seemed as excited as a kid on Christmas. Sitake wants him to be the program’s director of personnel, replacing Justin Anderson who followed Bronco Mendenhall to the University of Virginia.
BYU has yet to announce the hire, but a newspaper in Maui chronicled Damuni’s new job at BYU over the weekend. He was a teacher and coach at Baldwin High School on that island.
But more importantly, he is an alumni of Kahuku High School near Laie on the island of Oahu, a Mormon enclave on the North Shore and a hotbed for recruiting football players.
“I’m so excited, I can’t stand it,” Damuni told me last week. “This is a dream come true, something I’ve always wanted. It is a great opportunity for my wife and family and it will change our lives. “
That day, Damuni hung out with former Seattle Seahawk Itula Mili, another Kahuku alumni and others including Spencer and Gabe Reid as Sitake’s staff orchestrated its way through signing day. His brother, Waqa, is an assistant coach atUtah State.
Damuni is a very popular figure, a known leader, a positive-minded lightning rod of a personality who is well-connected with families and friends on the North Shore as well as other islands. He is of Fijian descent and most recently worked with special education and special needs school kids.
This hire follows a Sitake trend in reestablishing a Kahuku connection. Earlier in January he hired Tevita Ofahengaue, another Kahuku alum, as director of recruiting operations. Running back coach Reno Mahe’s parents own a fruit and vegetable stand near Kahuku. Sitake’s father, Tom, attended what is now known as BYU-Hawaii when Kalani was just a kid and was a security guard on campus.
Kahuku football players were regularly recruited to Provo by longtime BYU assistant Norm Chow for two decades. Chow’s recruits included Robert and Brad Anae, Mark Atuaia and teammate and best friend Mili, among others. The Cougars had a real advantage in the late '70s and '80s because Tongans and Samoans were migrating to Laie and what was then called The Church College of Hawaii (later BYU-Hawaii). They saw BYU as a school owned by their faith and they easily became huge fans. They wanted their kids to go to BYU. Utah’s Ron McBride broke through that stranglehold in the mid-'90s and regularly matched if not surpassed BYU’s success on the North Shore.
In 2006, “USA Football” published a list of high schools that had produced the most NFL players, some 1,695 athletes on the league’s rosters. Kahuku High tied with four other schools with the most NFL players. The other high schools were Dillard High in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and Blanche Ely High in Pampano Beach, Florida, and Dorsey High (Los Angeles) and Long Beach Poly High, in California.
Those Kahuku alums included former Cougars Mili and Aaron Francisco (Arizona Cardinals), and former Utes Chris Kemoeatu (Pittsburgh Steelers), Ma’ake Kemoeatu (Carolina Panthers) and Jacksonville’s Chris Naeole, who played at Colorado.
Over the years, Kahuku has produced NFL players whose names are very familiar to folks. They include Uani Unga, Hau’oli Kikaha, Manti Te'o (also attended Punahou), Kona Schwenke, Harland Ah You, Junior Ah You, Tala Esera, Toniu Fonoti, Lakai Heimuli, Leonard Peters, Al Afalava, Suaesi Tuimaunei, Al Lolotai, Palauni Ma Sun, Faaesa Mailo and Ofahengaue.
The Kahuku Red Raiders mean something to football.
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