School of hard knocks

A long time ago, Tina Turner took a nice little song by Creedence Clearwater Revival — “Proud Mary” — and declared: “You know, every now and then, I think you might like to hear something from us nice and easy. But there’s just one thing, you see, we never do anything nice and easy.”

And that, of course, reminds me of some of the bad asses of UH sports. They weren’t bad people — the opposite, in fact, good family people — but they brought intensity and fearlessness into their sports. They were Niko Noga, Semeri Ulufale, Chris Brown, Kelly McGill, Blaze Soares and Chad Owens in football; Curt Watanabe and Colin Tanabe in baseball; Bob Nash, Thomas Louden and Vincent Smalls in basketball; Tony Ching in men’s volleyball, and Tyleen Tausaga and Kate Robinson in softball. They were tough, competitive and, quite frankly, scared the hanabata out of opponents. One of the best bad asses — Falaniko Vitale, dubbed “Torpedo Head” in his playing days — struggled to make it on the field because he kept suffering impact injuries in practices.

Here are some of the toughest in the athletic department:

Player — Malachi Mageo: A couple summers ago, following intensive training at Waikiki Beach, some players started bickering. Mageo, who probably weighed 200 pounds at the time, stepped in as a peace-maker and pulled away linemen. He single-handedly broke up a potential scrap. That’s respect.

Coach — Chris Naeole: Naeole actually is a really nice and funny guy. But he earns respect and admiration from his offensive linemen because of his tough-like approach and commitment.

Staff — Eric Okasaki: My boss, Paul Arnett, once pointed out that it’s not a significant injury until the head trainer, Okasaki, goes onto the field to treat the player. Okasaki, the dean of athletic department employees, does not tolerate players who do not take their rehab seriously. Behind the stare and the folded arms is a man who cares about the players and his student trainers.

Administration — Jeannie Lee: To get to athletic director David Matlin, you need to get past Lee, and nobody can do that without an appointment and valid reason. She’s smart (master’s degree) and freakishly strong. She also leads UH’s successful blood-donor drive. It’s never a good idea to mess with anyone who can make you give up blood, particularly your own.

Media relations — Neal Iwamoto: There was a lot of behind-the-scenes nonsense a few years ago in men’s basketball. He’s a really nice and calm guy, but he won’t back down if he or anyone else is being treated unfairly.


  1. wafan January 4, 2017 3:49 am

    Hello . . . Hello?

    Anyone home?

    Good to see folks at the cc last week.

  2. Akamai Okole January 4, 2017 5:15 am

    Great Morning All!

    Howzit wafan! Great to see you as well.

    Talk ’bout tough…all 4 major branches of service were represented at the cc (sorry SteveM)
    A-house – Army
    Sailor Blue – Navy
    Captain Ron – Air Force
    And the Tsaikos Marine DI…Mrs. A-house! 😆

  3. H-Man January 4, 2017 7:53 am

    For softball, I would like to add Jessica Iwata and Kelly Elms (Majam) to the list of players that displayed toughness, feistiness and simply delivered, never backing down.

  4. Old School Dave January 4, 2017 7:56 am

    Tracy Orillo-Donovan was also a very good, nice, and professional person in the AD when she worked there.

  5. Kendra January 4, 2017 8:26 am

    I wonder if rolo could try and recruit this player seone heimuli father is lakei heimuli just like his dad beast.

  6. Ipu Man January 4, 2017 8:38 am

    “…and we rolling…”
    ties in well with coach Rolo 🙂

  7. al January 4, 2017 8:51 am

    I would add Derek Tatsuno and Bryan Duquette.
    Both bulldogs on the mound who wouldn’t flinch at throwing some 90mph chin music.

    And then there was Joey Meyer.

  8. al January 4, 2017 8:52 am

    Shouldn’t Riley Wallace be in that group?

  9. Stephen Tsai January 4, 2017 9:01 am

    I was once in a softball league, and Tracy was our left-fielder. She caught everything and she had a really strong arm. She was quite the athlete.

  10. Stephen Tsai January 4, 2017 9:05 am

    A bunch of us media types were all gathering around at practice when somebody noted Chad Owens bore a slight resemblance to a Sylvester Stallone. And because I can never help myself, I mentioned that to Owens. In a Balboa voice, he said: “I’m gonna knock you out.”

  11. jackleg preacher January 4, 2017 9:48 am

    Natasha Kai brought intensity!

  12. Na Alii Pride January 4, 2017 10:04 am

    I always thought Billy Blanchette was a tough guy on the mound.

  13. jr January 4, 2017 10:16 am

    rolo check this player out for running back seone heimuli.

  14. Da Punchbowl Kid January 4, 2017 11:00 am

    If we are looking for someone who demonstrates the extremes of toughness and kindness look no further that the legendary Brian Kajiyama.

  15. PONO January 4, 2017 11:04 am

    I would throw in Justice Sueing and late John Molle Jr into the mix. Both of them were true warriors and tough guys on the court. If you forgot about Justice check out this clip. He was a physical freak of nature.

  16. Maddog50 January 4, 2017 11:09 am

    How bout some recruiting news-

  17. madeinhawaii January 4, 2017 11:26 am

    let’s not forget the tenacity of BJ Itoman.

  18. A-House January 4, 2017 11:50 am

    here I thought ST was looking for names of “head hunters” like Semiri Ulufale ( hope I spelled his name correctly ) as I admired him being the CRUSHER on kickoff

    he would leap forward into the opponent’s wedge blockers and mow them down — jump up pumping his hands

    a very special, special teams player!

  19. A-House January 4, 2017 11:53 am


    Brain was in a class by himself.

    first met him a Pali Preschool where he was classmates with MasaBoy

  20. A-House January 4, 2017 12:00 pm

    since watching UH football from 1960 to present day — there were only 2 coaches which destroyed the program — Von Oppen and Chow

    all the others were “builders’ including Rolo — a love of the people and Hawaii

    I agree with Maddog50 – where is the recruiting news? damn with the “dead period” — no person-to-person/face-to-face contact, but let cyber space be lit up like New Years eve 2016 into 2017!

    so thankful that our valley was mostly spared with all the illegals and only a few who spent $$$ on fireworks — perhaps 40 + years has changed our spending and sleeping habits

  21. NotNasti January 4, 2017 12:10 pm

    Oh, Justice Sueing . . . I was at the game where he set a pick on future NBA’er Andre Miller, and knocked him out cold.

  22. NotNasti January 4, 2017 12:11 pm

    Justice Sueing should have been an attorney. A trial lawyer or judge.

  23. A-House January 4, 2017 12:18 pm

    UHAD Matlin was quoted as saying contact from a community college to be part of the “student body” who will contribute to the students semi-annual athletic fee

    why not? are they not part of the UH wide educational system?

    this is a very positive step, IMHO, to building another bridge to more fans at Aloha Stadium

    I reiterate my position of UH needing to develop a marketing plan to pull in the young gun ones now to build a solid base for the future – single now, but family later to attend games

    past administration was so stuck on “sticking” current fans with “prime seat” and additional parking fees and current administration continues the practice to “balance the budget”

    and, get rid of the current prices charged for food and drink at the stadium — let eating establishments “bid” for the right to sell food — problem is the limited number of UH home games dropping from 8 or 9 to 6 per season — may not be worthwhile

  24. 3-Prong January 4, 2017 2:34 pm

    I can confirm first hand on Semeri Ulufale. Bugga was tough when we scrimmaged them in high school.

  25. islandman January 4, 2017 3:55 pm

    Tuileta to start at libero tomorrow, but won’t be at the Friday and Sat games, i think i heard from Wade on the radio.

  26. islandman January 4, 2017 4:26 pm

    He won’t be at the Saturday game, due to knife dancing duties.

  27. Willie January 4, 2017 4:57 pm

    #23 3-Prong, yes he was a beast. Still can picture him going balls out on kickoff coverage as one of the best “wedge busters” that I can recall.

    Pound for pound and inch for inch, my all time favorite hard knocker is Levi Stanley out of the far West Side!!!

  28. Kahuna January 4, 2017 5:03 pm

    I think it’s more than a knife dancing duties. You make it sound like he skipping his vball obligation for knife dancing. IT’S HIS SISTER’S WEDDING. He will performing knife dancing at the wedding but even if he wasn’t performing, he needed to be at her wedding.

    So Tui is essentially not going to play Saturday due to her sister’s wedding.

  29. islandman January 4, 2017 8:12 pm

    You got it wrong- its FIRE knife dancing. Who knows, maybe he could have come if he weren’t going to stay for the whole reception.

  30. burro sabio January 4, 2017 9:58 pm

    His sister should have had the wedding on Sunday 🙂

  31. Stephen Tsai January 5, 2017 1:53 am

    New post:

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