Luat-Hueu Ready for Junior College Challenge in Nor Cal
By Rodney S. Yap
Kepa Luat-Hueu loves a challenge, which is why he is happy to be in Northern California today.
The former King Kekaulike all-star defensive back packed his talent and determination Saturday for Santa Rosa Junior College, where Luat-Hueu will compete for the starting free-safety position when the Bears Cubs open camp in August.
“I am very excited and can’t wait to get started,” the 5-foot, 11-inch 180-pounder said Saturday, just hours before boarding his flight to San Francisco with his mother, Tammy. “I’ve been training everyday, sometimes twice-a-day. But I want to get going, learn the defense, and get used to things.”
Luat-Hueu will also be apartment hunting with his mom, who plans on staying a week to help her son get acclimated.
The Santa Rosa Junior College campus is located 52 miles north of San Francisco, surrounded by Oak trees is the school’s signature turn-of-the-century brick buildings on more than 100 acres. The football team competes in the Nor Cal Football Conference generally considered the best in the state and one of the top conferences in the nation. Besides the Bear Cubs, the conference consists of City College of San Francisco, Foothill College, Butte College, College of San Mateo, and DeAnza College.
How Luat-Hueu decided on Santa Rosa is a classic case of timing and luck.
“Coach Jack Damuni helped me. He said he knew a coach at Santa Rosa and that he would call him for me,” Luat-Hueu said.
Damuni, a long-time teacher at Iao School, had just returned to Maui after a defensive back coaching stint at Mesa Community College in Arizona, where the former BYU Cougar was reunited with his junior-college coach. Damuni’s eventual transition back into Hawaii teaching system relocated him to the Upcountry school.
Damuni’s contact is Chauncy Ako.
“Chauncy and I grew up in Laie,” Damuni said. “He’s a great coach and he took care of my nephew, so I knew he would take care of Kepa.”
“Kepa is a great kid,” Damuni added. “He was an impact player who played a lot of different positions.
“So I called Ako and told him he needed to watch Kepa’s highlight video. By lunch time he called me back and said he watched the video and was interested.”
“After he (Damuni) let coach (Ako) know about me, we started talking and he (Ako) said he could really use a guy like me,” said Luat-Hueu, who was instantly attracted to Ako’s intensity, enthusiasm and local style.
“We were talking and he said he likes the Hawaii players and he sees me playing free safety in his defense. And it’s good for me because I get to compete for the starting job. He didn’t say the starting position was mine, but he said I can definitely compete for the job.”
Coach Ako begins his second year as defensive coordinator for the Bear Cubs. A standout linebacker for the Bear Cubs in 1999-2000, Ako was a two-time All-Conference player, and as a sophomore he was named to the Juco All-American team. After his 2000 season, Ako signed with Boise State. He later served as linebacker coach at Boise in 2008.
The “Code Blue Defense” of Santa Rosa, is an aggressive and attacking 4-2-5 scheme rooted from Ako’s Boise State experience. The defense is versatile and fast paced.
Last year, Santa Rosa had three former Kahuku players on its roster. Luat-Hueu said Ako is trying to get more Hawaii players to come.
Former Lahainaluna standout Micah Arcangel redshirt last year and is expected to contribute this season. Luat-Hueu also said Na Alii teammate and friend, Emelio Maave, is also planning on attending Santa Rosa and trying out for the team.
“It’ll be good, he’s one of my best friends, so at least I will have someone I know to hang out with.”
In a 26-14 victory over Maui High last season, Luat-Hueu finished the night with 145 rushing yards on seven carries, two interceptions returned for 75 yards, a touchdown, and a 35-yard punt return that he nearly broke on the final play of the game.
Damuni said Santa Rosa and Ako were a good fit for Luat-Hueu.
“I think it will be good for both Kepa and Chauncy. I told Ako they are getting a good deal with him because he can play so many different positions. Imagine how good he could be if he would concentrate on one position. He is going to be dangerous, because he hasn’t reached his full potential yet and Chauncy will turn him into a player.”