Steve Sarkisian has been a fairly frequent visitor to Hawaii over the years.
He quarterbacked BYU to a win over Hawaii at Aloha Stadium in 1996, returned for the Hula Bowl after the season, visited as an assistant at USC, and has recruited the islands for close to a decade. On top of that, his wife’s family is from the Punchbowl area.
Now the head coach at Washington, Sarkisian was back last week working with local players as part of the All-Poly Camp’s staff.
"I wanted to be part of a growing football culture that is getting stronger and stronger, and has a lot of pride," Sarkisian said. "For years having ties back to this island from a family perspective and now I’ve been doing it from a recruiting point of view for the last 10 years. The opportunity to work this camp was something I wasn’t going to pass up."
The All-Poly Camp—a summer tradition in Utah for a decade—made its second Hawaii appearance with three days of instruction at McKinley High that ended yesterday. The staff included coaches with Hawaii roots now working on the mainland, including camp coordinators Brian Cabral of Colorado and Keith Uperesa of Nicholls State.
Sarkisian, working the camp for the first time, has enjoyed fruitful visits as a player and coach. In February, four island players signed with the Huskies.
However, Sarkisian said the recruiting aspect wasn’t a focus for his current stay.
"The point was to come and have an opportunity to give back and support the kids," Sarkisian said. "They’re coming here trying to get better, not only on the football field, but in what it takes in the classroom and off the field to make it happen."
Camp director Alema Teo said organizers "ironed out the kinks" from last year’s Hawaii debut at Kapiolani Park. This year’s camp drew 180-200 players from various high schools and the mainland.
"We’re real happy with the turnout, the competition level was great," Teo said. "It was the natural move for us to come here. We’ve always had a lot of kids that left Hawaii to come to our Utah camp. We figured if we can bring a similar experience here to Hawaii, the kids will benefit."
The camp included an academic workshop and offered players an opportunity to hone their skills while perhaps catching the eye of the college coaches in attendance. It also gave them a chance for some summer hitting before they head into preparations for the fall.
"It’s kind of nice to have full pads before the regular season," said defensive lineman Judah Parker. "It was pretty much full speed, just don’t go to the ground. It was kind of like a Christmas present."
Parker attended Word of Life, which recently closed, and will head into his senior year at Saint Louis with scholarship offers from Hawaii and Wyoming.
Tani Tupou, a defensive lineman from Archbishop Murphy in Washington, made the trip as part of a summer camp tour that included stops in Utah, Oregon and Oregon State.
Tupou’s father and uncle were standouts at Kaimuki, and he lived in Palolo and Laie before moving to the Northwest. He’s emerged as a highly regarded prospect and has already committed to Washington.
"I came to have fun and play with all the local boys," Tupou said. "I just wanted to come back to show everybody, not in a cocky way, that I can play."