In an all-in move last year, Kamalu Umu walked away from a full ride at Charleston Southern to join the Hawaii football team as a non-scholarship player.
It all paid off this week when Umu was awarded a football scholarship from the Warriors.
"It’s a blessing for me and my family," Umu said. "The man upstairs blessed us."
Umu and his wife, Rain, are parents of 2-year-old Tewai.
"This," Umu said of the scholarship, "will give me extra money to provide for my family."
The Warriors were out of scholarships until freshman defensive end Veni Manu quit the team this week. UH head coach Greg McMackin said Umu was an easy choice.
"He deserved one," McMackin said. "He worked hard. He earned it."
The Warriors’ starting defensive ends — Liko Satele and Umu — entered training camp as walk-ons. Both exited with full rides.
"I’m happy for both of them," defensive tackle Vaughn Meatoga said. "Everybody is happy for them."
Umu took the scenic route to Manoa. Born in Honolulu, he lived on Kauai through the eighth grade, then moved back to Oahu to attend Saint Louis School.
He was set to attend San Jose State, but there were complications, and he ended up attending Arizona Western (junior) College. After two years there, he sent videos to UH, San Jose State and San Diego State. Then he received a surprise offer from Charleston Southern, a I-AA school.
Umu would receive a full ride, which included a family unit in the dormitories. Rain could attend classes on a work-study program while Tewai attended an on-campus day-care center.
"They gave me an offer I couldn’t turn down," Umu said.
But Umu and Rain, a Saint Francis School graduate, missed their families. They decided to move to Hono-lulu in the summer of 2009. After receiving a scholarship release, Umu contacted UH.
"No guarantees," Umu said. "I knew I had to work my hardest, and trust something good would happen."
In accordance with NCAA transfer rules, Umu was not eligible to play in any games in 2009. He said financial aid and help from family members covered school and living expenses.
This summer, during a physical examination, tests showed that Umu had an injury to the rotator cuff in his right shoulder. Surgery was not required, but Umu was instructed to undergo physical-therapy treatments three times a week.
"I had to keep working on it," Umu said. "I wanted to play this season."
During spring training, Umu was capable of bench-pressing 225 pounds 30 times. He recently resumed weight training, and now can do 22 reps of 225 pounds.
He also has gained 5 pounds, and weighs 270.
"He’s playing strong," said McMackin, noting Umu was primarily a pass-rusher during spring training. "Now he’s very good against the run."
Umu, who moved from the left side to right end, said: "Being a defensive lineman, you have to be all-around. You have to be able to pass-rush and stop the run."
Umu also was able to earn the required college credits to be eligible to play this coming season. He took six three-credit classes this summer.
"That’s the kind of guy he is," Meatoga said. "You ask him to do something, and it gets done. He took care of business. That’s one of the things Coach respects about him."