By Rodney S. Yap
As trainers go, he is a technician with a penchant for perfection.
He is hard on the athletes he trains and they know that coming in — that’s why they keep going to David Kamalani Jr.
Athletes — from youth to high school, from girls to boys, from Maui to Oahu, yearning to take their talents to the next level — call Kamalani of Get FAST (Fundamental Agility Speed Training).
A master speed trainer for Nike, Kamalani works with athletes of all ages and all sports. His speciality is speed and agility. And over the last two decades, he has produced more than 60 Division I Hawaii athletes and as many as 12 prep all-americans.
Lahainaluna High School’s Kiko Taylor-Fonohema is one of Kamalani’s current students hoping to attract college recruiters and a shot at a football scholarship. At the recent Nike SPARQ Combine in Los Angeles, Taylor-Fonohema was ranked 21st among more than 1,500 athletes at who tested at Cerritos City College.
The 16-year-old senior-to-be was awarded a 90.12 SPARQ Rating by Nike following the March 9 testing in four protocols: 40-yard dash, vertical jump, 20-yard pro agility shuttle and the power-ball toss. Taylor-Fonohema’s numbers were: 4.81 seconds in the 40, 36.3-inch vertical jump, 4.31 agility (5-10-5), and 34.5-foot power ball toss.
Taylor-Fonohema’s score is the highest SPARQ rating by an MIL athlete, higher than Baldwin High School’s Jordan Hoiem (88.23) or Keelan Ewaliko (71.91), when the pair tested at the Nike Hawaii Combine last year at Saint Louis School. Hoiem and Ewaliko were both named to Hawaii’s All-Nike Combine Team, made up of the top 25 Hawaii athletes based on combine performance and college recruitability.
Hoiem, also a senior-to-be, has trained with Kamalani “on-and-off” since he was in the 8th grade. Ewaliko was also training with Kamalani prior to their strong showing at the Nike Combine on Oahu.
As a result, the 6-foot-4 Hoiem received five Division I scholarship offers since last March and verbally committed to Oregon, his first choice, earlier this month.
Ewaliko had always wanted to play at the University of Hawaii, and head coach Norm Chow did not hesitate to offer the three-time MIL Offensive Player of the Year a scholarship after watching him win the 200-meter dash and lead Baldwin to its first state track championships last May. Ewaliko signed his letter of intent from UH in February.
In addition, Kamalani trained the last two Hawaii combine winners — Isaac Savaiinaea of Punahou (110.82) in 2012 and Brandon Brody-Heim (104.79) of Union in Vancouver, Wash. in 2011. Savaiinaea, who signed with UCLA, was Hawaii’s top recruit this past season.
Taylor-Fonohema said he did not anticipate finishing with a SPARQ score in the 90s.
“I didn’t think about my score much after I ran the 40, because I was disappointed with my time (4.81 seconds),” said the 6-foot-1, 182-pound defensive back, who listed safety as his primary position, although he led the Lunas to a 7-1 regular-season record and the 2012 MIL Division II championship as the team’s quarterback.
The Lahainaluna all-star injured his wrist doing power cleans over the Christmas break. He continued to lift for weeks after the injury, despite the discomfort. A doctor’s visit in early February discovered a small fracture and his right hand was put in a cast.
The injury and subsequent change in Kamalani’s work schedule as a fireman at the Kahului station compounded matters. But Taylor-Fonohema cut the cast off his hand and made the trip with his dad, Patrick Fonohema, anyway.
“I’m not satisfied, I know I can go faster. I wish I had gone to coach a few more times before I left.”
“I got his phone call saying he’s up in LA and of course I was disappointed,” recalled Kamalani, who has also worked with former MIL sprint champion Jay Braun of Kekaulike and is currently working with soccer players Lionel Mills of Kekaulike and Marley Duncan of Kamehameha Schools Maui.
“The reason I went was my dad really wanted me to go. I didn’t really feel like I was ready, but I just tried to do my best.”
Taylor-Fonohema’s rating would have ranked him 7th overall at the 2012 Hawaii Nike SPARQ Combine, where more than 450 athletes participated. Hawaii normally kicks off Nike’s regional combine tour, but Kamalani said construction issues at Saint Louis caused the event to be cancelled this year.
“Had we been able to spend more time preparing, I guarantee you his agility time would have been much better.”
“When it comes to the combine I know every single movement they need to learn — that’s why a lot of the guys I train finish first. It’s unfortunate that we didn’t put in more workouts before he left. When we did train earlier in the year he dropped his time in the 40 to 4.59. That’s from just working on the mechanics,” explained Kamalani, who two seasons ago served as Punahou’s speed trainer, flying to Honolulu several times a week for practices.
With the laser-electronic timing in place at the Maui Football Combine last year, Taylor-Fonohema clocked a 4.64 in the 40, a 4.287 in the agility, and a 36.5 vertical jump. Had he been able to match his best numbers in Los Angeles, Kamalani predicted a SPARQ rating between 104-109.
Based on the results, only six athletes for the LA combine scored 100 or better and the top rating of 108.30 went to Zachary Neill of Liberty High School in Arizona.
Taylor-Fonohema was No. 6 among defensive backs and 19th overall in the VJ.
“He can definitely make you faster,” the student said of his teacher. “The training forces you to look at all the little things that mean a lot.”
Taylor-Fonohema is back training with Kamalani in preparation for the 12th Annual PIAA Combine on Oahu on May 25. He is also considering the Nike tour-ending Portland, Ore. combine on June 8.
“Nobody is taught how to run, but imagine if they learned how. The importance of having proper mechanics is critical for a recruit to know, as it can often be the difference between grabbing a coach’s attention versus being completely ignored.”
Hoiem said his superior skill-set allowed him to stand out among hundreds of athletes in the warmup line.
“My training showed when I went up to camps in the mainland. That’s when I did better than I thought I would because of him, and because he pushed me,” Hoiem said. “I’ve gained the confidence I needed when I attended camps.”
“As an athlete, I don’t like coaches who make you feel like you’re good enough already. I’ve noticed that some coaches are treating me differently because of the type of cred I’ve been getting from colleges, but I don’t really prefer that. I want to be treated like I’m nothing special and that motivates me to come out and work hard every day.”
“Normally I hand pick the kids I train,” the coach said. “No one can train in the advance class until they have completed the beginner’s classes, because we build on mechanics and that’s our foundation. There is never any wasted motion or wasted reps.”
“He demands nothing but perfection and when it’s not perfect he’ll let you know,” Hoiem said. “Even though you know it can never be perfect, you know he’s expecting nothing but perfect and it makes you want to strive for that. All you want to do when you’re with him is make it perfect.”
Having built a solid reputation among college coaches and trainers on the mainland, a recommendation by Kamalani can be the difference between landing a scholarship versus walking on.
Kamalani knows how much harder the road to college athletics is as a walk-on — his oldest son, Keloni, a senior linebacker and special-team starter at Oregon, had to take the long route.
“He had it rough, and being trained by me wasn’t easy for him,” said the father of six kids and husband to Shawndelle. “I’m surprised he still calls me dad. But it’s because of him a lot of people have benefited through the mistakes I’ve made and from what I’ve learned. He was the guinea pig and I’m really grateful for that and I’m happy he’s doing well.”
“When they do actually train with me they all understand where the commitment level needs to be and what they need to do.”
Kamalani’s love for kids is what fuels him.
“That’s why I’ve never charged anybody. All the services I do, I do it because I want to do it and I don’t want money to be the reason why a kid can’t have an opportunity.”
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