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Visualization prepares UH’s Kema-Kaleiwahea

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    Hawaii’s Makani Kema-Kaleiwahea had a photo of Colorado’s Sefo Liufau as his phone screen saver for motivation. He sacked the Buffaloes’ quarterback on Thursday.

It was not beyond linebacker Makani Kema-Kaleiwahea’s imagination to get a sack in his first University of Hawaii football game.

“I’m a visualization player,” said Kema-Kaleiwahea, a Kamehameha Schools graduate who transferred to UH from Arizona in January.

Send a text to Kema-Kaleiwahea in the months leading to last week’s opener, and Colorado quarterback Sefo Liufau’s face would appear.

“Sefo Liufau was the screen saver on my phone,” said Kema-Kaleiwahea, who also had pictures of Colorado’s top players in his locker and on the walls at home. “I looked at them every day. I don’t hate them. It was just motivation to train.”

He said he wanted to emulate Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, who uses visualization techniques to prepare for opponents.

It was a deja-vu moment when Kema-Kaleiwahea sacked Liufau in the Warriors’ 28-20 victory.

“I told myself the entire offseason I was going to get a sack (in the opener),” Kema-Kaleiwahea said. “I replayed it in my head of sacking the quarterback. Visualization is a big part of my game.”

Kema-Kaleiawahea also has learned to improvise. During training camp, he suffered an injury to his dominant hand. Trainers taped his left hand, then fitted a cushioned casing to run from the knuckles to his forearm. He said jotting notes in class is difficult. But he has managed to incorporate his “club” into his defensive technique.

“I feel like Mega Man,” he said, smiling.

Kema-Kaleiwahea is 6 feet 3 and weighs 240 pounds, about eight pounds fewer than when he was at Arizona. But with his hectic schedule — he and his wife moved to Hawaii to adopt two boys who used to be his foster brothers — he had trouble maintaining weight.

He also has kept busy playing defensive end and both outside-linebacker positions.

“I’ll play wherever the coaches want me to play,” he said.

That meant being used on special teams during preseason training. But two days before the opener, special teams coordinator Jake Cookus announced Kema-Kaleiwahea as the top specialist. He then was presented the Warriors’ battle axe, which is made of koa and shark teeth.

Kema-Kaleiwahea, holding the battle-axe high, led the Warriors onto the field while the UH Marching band played “Hawaii Five-0” the past Thursday night.

“It was a blessing, in my first game back, to lead the team onto the field,” Kema-Kaleiwahea said. “It was definitely surreal.”

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