To do Eddie Klaneski’s brand of collision football justice it isn’t enough to merely say that you saw him play in the 1990s.
Because, with Klaneski, there was usually a crash, bang audio component as well.
He was the kind of full-throttle performer, from Damien Memorial High School on through the University of Hawaii and the arena league, that the term “katoosh” stuck to like velcro. The type who, as a fearless free safety, hard-blocking slotback and determined punt returner, inspired “oohs” and “aahs” from the crowd and generated business for chiropractors.
“Toughest kid we had in 19 years (at UH),” former head coach Bob Wagner will tell you.
But these days the now 35-year-old Klaneski aims to make a different kind of impact as the Monarchs’ newly named head football coach. In taking over at his alma mater, there is much beyond X’s and O’s Klaneski can teach and instill as an inspiration and role model. There is passion and purpose he can pass on to a new generation of underdog Monarchs.
His story remains walk-on legend at UH, where he arrived as an undersized, unrecruited, non-scholarship player and, through dint of hard work and focus, left as a two-time team MVP and three-time All-Western Athletic Conference performer (1995-97). Twice he led UH in tackles.
“Led” being the operative term as the one-time “wild horse” — as a coach had dubbed him — rechanneled a stubborn “orneriness” to become a leader at a time when UH was desperate for them.
Klaneski’s stay bridged the end of Wagner’s tenure and the first two years of Fred vonAppen’s, a period before the arrival of June Jones in which victories were rare and the ones that came were hard fought.
Many of the ones UH did manage, such as the 17-3 victory over Minnesota in 1997, had Klaneski’s unmistakable imprint. In that one, he intercepted a pass, recovered a fumble, recovered a blocked field goal and returned a blocked punt. He had a shoestring interception to preserve a victory over Nevada-Las Vegas and a 52-yard punt return that nearly helped steal the show against Notre Dame.
But if Klaneski was a force when the lights were on and people were in the stands, he first began making a name for himself as a freshman in the anonymity of scout team scrimmages with the same passion.
As a freshman prior to the 1993 season opener, his job was to simulate the opponent’s running back, no easy task since scout team blocking isn’t what you’d wish on your worst enemy. “I remember Eddie took every snap, ran back kicks and what not. In general, he just relished getting his butt knocked off,” Wagner recalls. “But he showed us a lot,” said Wagner, who rewarded Klaneski with a scholarship the next season.
Which is why Klaneski, a Monarchs assistant for six years, can be a good fit in a tough job. “I can relate to these kids,” he says. “I was there. (Being successful) is more of a mentality than anything and working with what’s around you and making do with what you have.”
Klaneski said, “Kids can do a lot of things as long as they believe in what you are doing.”
In that, Klaneski’s example is one worth taking to heart.
Reach Ferd Lewis at email@example.com.