For BYU’s Jared Kapisi, the Hawaii Bowl will be a homecoming

Photo by Jaren Wilkey/BYU Redshirt junior Jared Kapisi could possibly play in his first football game in Hawaii since he was a senior at Maui High School when BYU meets Hawaii in the Hawaii Bowl on Christmas Eve.

Provo • Come Dec. 24, Jared Kapisi could get an early Christmas present.

The redshirt junior could possibly play in his first football game in Hawaii since he was a senior at Maui High School. BYU will play in the Hawaii Bowl on Christmas Eve.

Kapisi has only been able to return home for a couple of weeks each year since relocating to the mainland in 2014 and traveled with the Cougars when the team played the Rainbow Warriors in Aloha Stadium in 2017, but didn’t see any action then.

But maybe this time around will be different.

“I'm hoping to at least get some action to show my parents and show them all the hard work that I've been putting in, just show them what I've been doing,” Kapisi said. “Hopefully, it works out.”

Kapisi is the only player on the Cougars’ roster from Hawaii. There are other players with connections to the islands, but Kapisi is the only one born and raised in Hawaii.

Due to the geographical location, Kapisi hardly ever has hometown friends and family come see him play. Almost half the players on the roster are from the state of Utah. Many of the remaining players are from neighboring states, like Idaho and Arizona.

Because BYU is independent, the Cougars have the opportunity to play anywhere in the nation, which allows players from different parts of the country to still have family and friends make it out to see them play.

Now, Kapisi will have the chance to have a group of family and friends in the stands.

“I think that’s pretty cool to think about — people that I know actually might be there to see me,” Kapisi said. “Maybe not just to see me, but to see the game.”

Growing up in Hawaii, especially in a small town on the island of Maui, Kapisi said the thought of playing on the mainland or in NCAA sports was never considered an attainable dream. Kapisi, who serves as a backup kicker, punter and corner for the Cougars, grew up playing soccer.

It wasn't until middle school that he started playing football.

As a freshman, Kapisi met Ladd Akeo — a member of the 1984 championship team. Seeing the championship ring on the former BYU linebacker sparked an interest in Kapisi to try to play for BYU.

During his junior year, Kapisi came to a couple of camps at BYU and realized he could do it. So, when he came to BYU in 2014, Kapisi showed up to try-outs and earned a walk-on spot.

“I just liked playing, I didn’t think I’d go play college football or go on to try to play Division I,” Kapisi said. “It was always surreal when I came from Maui to here and then I just walked on and made it on the team. It was surreal for me. I didn’t think this was a possibility. It was really awesome to come from a smaller place and then come to this bigger university where it’s just a big deal — people love football.”

Through his career, Kapisi has received help from David Kamalani, who’s been a mentor and trainer for Kapisi since he was in high school. Kamalani was the first person who really helped Kapisi realize he could accomplish his dream.

David Bui, one of Kapisi's high school coaches, has also served as a huge inspiration.

While Kapisi is still a walk-on, he hopes to one day return to the islands and help younger kids accomplish their dreams.

“I’ve thought about it,” Kapisi said. “How crazy would that be to go back and take everything I’ve learned here at BYU and inspire the next generation. I don’t know, we’ll have to fit it into the plan. There’s just a lack of education, football-wise, there that needs to be existing. There’s a lot of talent to be dug up.”