Hawaii safety Kenny Estes’ collegiate football career has been set to different speeds.
He was the Warriors’ fastest special-teams player last year, completing the 40-yard dash in under 4.5 seconds. Yet, he prefers to live his life in the slow lane.
He committed to UH early in his senior season at Waimea High, yet enrolled late, about a year later, as a grayshirt in January 2007.
And although he was projected to start in 2009, he did not practice with the first team until this past Wednesday.
"I take every day as it is," Estes said. "I can’t think of the future — or the past."
Estes is the No. 1 free safety this spring. He has a head start on a competition that heats up when injured Jordan Gomes recovers from a knee injury and heralded Brandon Leslie arrives this summer.
"Anything can happen," Estes said. "I’m trying to study all of my plays and do the right things."
For the first time in his career, he is enjoying good health. He has had so many problems with both shoulders that he cannot recall the chronology of the injuries. Asked which shoulder required a medical hardship in 2008, Estes said, "I don’t even know. I hurt both sides. I get mixed up."
It was another shoulder injury that sabotaged the Warriors’ plans to install Estes as a starter in 2009.
After that, he acknowledged, "I got down on the depth chart."
Although he was used sparingly as a safety in 2010, he gained attention as one of the Warriors’ best defenders on the kick-coverage unit. His work there earned him another shot — his final one — at safety.
"This is my fifth year in college," he said. "It’s my last year. I’ve grown up a lot."
Honolulu ranks 50th nationally in population, but to Estes, who was raised on Kauai’s rural west side, it was the big city.
"When I got here, I was like, ‘Holy smokes, this is a whole different thing,’" Estes recalled.
In Waimea, everybody seemingly knows each other. He could drive on the beach, and set up campfires on the sand.
"When I go fishing here, I have to follow all of these laws," Estes said. "Back at home, it’s all free game."
He remembered how one of UH’s lecture halls could fit half of Waimea High’s student enrollment.
"He’s a down-to-earth country kid," said former UH slotback Kealoha Pilares, who opened his family house to Estes for a summer. "He sticks to his roots no matter what. He loves fishing. You can’t get it out of him. That’s one thing about him, he needs his fishing."
Pilares recalled a visit to Estes’ family home.
"It was super fun," Pilares said. "He showed me how they lived. It’s very different from Oahu. Life is a lot slower. That’s him. He can tear up a dance floor, but he doesn’t like to go out. He’d rather go to the beach and throw out the fishing poles."
Estes said he has found balance, and that he can play aggressively."
"I do what I need to do," Estes said.