Hawaii football: Linebacker Kana‘i Picanco reaping what he’s sown

Kana‘i Picanco, left, shared a laugh with fellow linebacker Jeremiah Pritchard on the sidelines at a recent practice. / Photo by Dennis Oda, Star-Advertiser

Kana‘i Picanco had dirt bikes to ride, cattle to raise, and corn, squash and flower crops to harvest.

Football? He had more important thing to do in rural Kahaluu.

“My dad them were farmers and stuff, you know, when they were young. That’s how they grew up. They grew up that way, we grew up that way too,” said Picanco, the youngest of six siblings. “It wasn’t like my first choice to play football when I was younger, because I didn’t really even think about it.”

Though it was muffled at first, his blue-collar calling was gradually heard. He grew up with cousins of former UH linebacker Corey Paredes and they would go watch Paredes’ games at Castle and UH. Another Kaneohe standout, Blaze Soares, was an idol, too.

Picanco played around at different positions starting at age 9 then stuck to linebacker as a freshman at Damien. He was the ILH Division II Defensive Player of the Year as a senior, playing for former Rainbow standout Eddie Klaneski. But he was fairly undersized and took the road less traveled to Pima Community College in Tucson, Ariz.

He spent two years in the desert heat racking up tackles for loss and parlayed that into an invitation to join UH as a walk-on, with a chance to eventually play in front of family and friends. Picanco redshirted his first year in Manoa then began to carve out a role as a backup linebacker in 2018.

“I mean, I was hoping. You know, I always dreamed of playing college football, D-I football,” Picanco said. “I’m glad it’s here. I’m glad I’m here.”

So are those around him.

Picanco, now 6-1 and 225 pounds, has emerged as an unlikely mainstay in the UH linebacker corps — given his winding trajectory through the sport — heading into Saturday’s matchup against FCS opponent Central Arkansas (3-0). He is one of four players with a sack through three games for the Rainbow Warriors (2-1), who are coming off their first loss at Washington.

Head coach Nick Rolovich glowed at practice this week about how the fifth-year senior has worked his way up through the ranks.

“Since he got here, he’s been a worker,” Rolovich said. “He’s our, I don’t know if it’s iron man, but he’s as tough as they come. He cares a lot about this football team. He’s a guy that, especially the local community, should be very proud of how he handles himself, how he attacks every practice, how much he cares. Started as a walk-on, earned a scholarship. And now he’s a major contributor for us. So I’m going to miss Picanco when he’s gone, because I like being on a football team when he’s there.”

His value has never been higher with Penei Pavihi going down with a season-ending knee injury before the opener and Jeremiah Pritchard battling his own injury woes.

Now he’s one of the guys the young ones look to for guidance.

“I see them making a mistake, I go and help them. And I tell them what they could do better,” Picanco said. “From my mistakes, too, I learned. I just try to help them out. The coaches always say, our weakest link is how strong we are. If we can get them all up to par, then we’ll be a strong par.”

The difficult road through junior college no doubt shaped him for his responsibilities now. And so did his time back on the farm in Kahaluu.

“We grew all kine. Corn and squash. We grew flowers, everything. All kind of stuff,” Picanco said. “My grandpa, he used to switch it up every season.” His father, Leonard, “wants to (keep it going), but he’s working and stuff now. When he gets a chance, he goes back in and does it.”

Picanco, too, has another task at hand right now, and he intends to keep plowing away. He’s learned that sometimes the goal in farming and football is the same: just produce.

Washington Huskies tight end Hunter Bryant was taken down by Hawaii linebacker Kana’i Picanco in the second half last Saturday. / Photo by Steven Erler, Special to the Star-Advertiser


  1. nomu1001 September 20, 2019 8:16 pm

    When we first saw him, thought he was at least 250 and strong as hell. When he makes a hit, no one runs over him or around him. He plays big.

  2. H-Man September 21, 2019 11:20 am

    Picanco starting ahead of Pritchard today. To me, that says a lot. Go Warriors !!!

  3. Philip L. September 22, 2019 4:21 am

    Kana’i Picanco! Non-stop motor. Glad this local boy ended up playing for our Warriors.

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