Afoa: Hawai'i's Hidden Gem
Nov. 20, 2007
By Brian Tom
While some big-time athletes are overly-scrutinized and play underthe proverbial microscope, Husky defensive lineman Wilson Afoa hasled a relatively anonymous existence at Washington and before.
Afoa has quietly carved out a nice football career for himself atWashington. Behind only Greyson Gunheim, he is second among activedefensive players in career starts and tackles-for-loss. Considering hisquiet off-the-field demeanor and the reputation of players from Hawai'ias being laid back, it is little surprise that Afoa has went through hisfootball career with little fanfare.
It isn't the first time Afoa has went unnoticed. He wasn't on manycollege's radars and received relatively little recruiting attention untilNovember of his senior season. Even then, Afoa wasn't considered themost highly sought after defensive lineman from his team. That honorwent to his cousin, Tolifili Liufau, who was considered the state's toprecruit.
When college coaches would come to see Liufau play, they quicklystarted taking notice of Afoa and began asking `Who is that guy wearingNo. 87?' What they found out was that Afoa was a hungry, talentedfootball player that was humble, both on and off the field.
'Wilson has a quiet-on-the-surface personality, but if you take thetime to get to know him you see that he is much deeper than that andthat he has the respect of his teammates,' says Husky Head CoachTyrone Willingham.
Afoa also began earning the respect of college coaches afterleading powerhouse St. Louis High School to the state championshipand earning the 2002 Honolulu Advertiser's Defensive Player of the Yearduring his senior year. But typical of Afoa, he found it hard to believe that he was getting all the attention.
'It was a surprise that I got a football scholarship,' says Afoa. 'Noone was really looking at me coming into my senior year and even thenrecruiting didn't even pick up until after the season was over. But, it wasan even bigger surprise that I won defensive player of the year for thestate of Hawai'i.
'I was in class when one of my coaches said `CongratulationsWilson' and I was like `What are you talking about?' and he just laughedand didn't tell me what was up. I ended up reading it in the newspaperand I was shocked. But, that was the best feeling in the world that myhard work paid off.'
It was at about this time that the University of Washington tooknotice. They offered Afoa a trip to Seattle and it was on that trip thatAfoa was sold on being a Husky.
'Coach (Rick) Neuheisel was a real players coach,' remembers Afoa.'The thing that really got me was that I was in the football offices talking with the coaches when he just came out of nowhere and tackled me tothe ground. I was pretty surprised and he said to me `Maybe somedayif you come here you can get me back.' It was a combination of thecoaches and the Polynesian players that made me feel comfortable.'
Fellow Hawaiians' Brandon Ala and St. Louis alumni, Joe Lobendahn,were Afoa's host during his visit to Seattle. They didn't push Afoa tocome to Washington, but they defi nitely helped in keeping the Huskies'pipeline to the 50th state open.
It used to be that because of Washington's proximity to Hawai'i,the Husky football coaches could swoop into the state and nab severalof the top recruits with relative ease. They were able to grab the likesof Bern Brostek, Siupeli Malamala, Olin Kruetz, and Ink Aleaga in theearlier days and continued having recruiting success in the followingyears. Hawai'i trails only the state of Washington and California in itslevel of importance to producing future Huskies.
But, with the revelation of the deep talent pool from the state,developments of national scouting services and advancements intechnologies that allow coaches from all corners to keep in contactwith recruits despite distance, it's now a dog-eat-dog world for the topHawaiian talents.
Even with the increased competition, Washington is still mining theHawai'i islands for recruiting riches. And often the Huskies strike gold,which is exactly what they did when they unearthed Afoa back in 2002.Now, as Afoa's Husky career rapidly comes to a close, he recognizesthe importance of fellow Hawaiians following in his footsteps.
'I would hope that other kids growing up on the islands would wantto have an experience away from the islands,' says Afoa. 'Coming toWashington was pretty much my fi rst experience of leaving the islandsand it was a great experience. I would want other Hawaiian kids to comehere and experience the same things that I have.'
With that said, there is still no place like home. Afoa couldn't behappier to make a return trip to the islands for his last regular seasongame of his career on Dec. 1 against Hawai'i.
'Having the chance to play the last regular season game of mysenior year in my hometown, that is just such a special deal for me,'says Afoa. 'That is where I played the last game of my senior year inhigh school. It's just a great feeling to play my last game in my homestate against the home school.'
You can bet that Afoa will get a lot of attention in his return to hishome state. Afoa and walk-on Jay Angotti are the lone Huskies that hailfrom Oahu, while Daniel Te'o-Nesheim and Kalani Aldrich are from thebig island of Hawai'i. After leading a career mostly out of the spotlight, it will be a fitting finale to Afoa's career to finally be under the microscope, in an environment where he can shine brightly among family andfriends.