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Utah’s Anae won’t be denied

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    Former Kahuku standout Bradlee Anae has the NFL in his sights as a first-team All-Pac-12 defensive end.

Bradlee Anae wakes up every day chasing his dream of playing in the NFL.

A first-team All-Pac-12 defensive end at the University of Utah, Anae is on his way to achieving that goal and is three games into a senior season that will determine whether he gets there or not.

He could be selfish with his time. After all, this is his one shot to make the big leagues.

Becoming a professional athlete isn’t the only thing Anae wants to do. He also carries the responsibility, as so many other island boys do, of representing the state of Hawaii along the journey.

It’s why after a recent three-sack performance in a win over Northern Illinois, Anae didn’t stick around on campus to celebrate.

He had a quick drive to make down South.

“I was there, man,” Anae said of Kahuku’s football game against Timpview in Provo, Utah, 11 days ago. “I stood up all game long. I haven’t stood up for that long before in my entire life, but it was worth it. We came out with the dub.”

The 2016 Kahuku alumnus called it a reunion as he watched his alma mater beat Timpview 34-14. The game kicked off roughly four hours after the Utes finished off a 35-17 win over Northern Illinois, but it was still plenty of time for Anae to make the hour-long drive and give the Red Raiders a pregame pep talk.

He was there with a bunch of teammates from his senior year at Kahuku, when the Red Raiders last won a state title with a 39-14 thumping of the Tua Tagovailoa-led Saint Louis Crusaders.

“It was pretty cool to see everyone,” Anae said. “I have a picture of a lot of us and it was just a North Shore reunion, man. It was special.”

Kahuku was loaded that season, with Hirkley Latu signing with Brigham Young and Keala Santiago staying home to play for UH.

Kekaula Kaniho (Boise State), Aliki Vimahi (Utah) and Kesi Ah-Hoy (Oregon State) were juniors on that team.

Anae wasn’t the biggest name of the group, but he had his share of offers. Virginia and Vanderbilt were the two likeliest destinations until Utah decided to give him an offer just a couple of weeks before signing day.

It changed his life.

“Once they extended an offer to me it was all history from there. I didn’t look back,” said Anae, who has gone from 215 pounds to 265 in the four years since. “It all happened pretty fast. It was a perk that my sister (volleyball player Adora Anae) was here and everything worked out and just fell into place.”

It’s worked out so well that Anae is now the unofficial mayor of Sack Lake City, a mythical town representing the Utes’ ability to take down opposing quarterbacks.

He is more than happy to carry the moniker with his team-leading 15 sacks as a sophomore and junior, including a conference-best eight last season.

“It’s a very real thing,” Anae said. “We take a lot of pride in our D-line culture here that has had tons of guys come out of the University of Utah and do well in the league and whatnot. We take pride in getting to the quarterback, and that’s just where the nickname came from.”

Both starting defensive ends are from Laie, as Anae plays opposite sophomore Mika Tafua, a Kamehameha alumnus who graduated a year before Anae but served a two-year church mission.

Tafua, who originally signed with Brigham Young, worked his way into a starting role last season as a true freshman and recorded 71⁄2 tackles for loss and two sacks in 11 games with six starts.

“We slap each other on the butt before every game to put out for the ’ville,” Anae said. “Mika leads by example and does everything you ask him to with 100 percent effort. You could tell right away he came here to do something and that’s kind of the same mind-set I had when I came in.”

Utah has five isle players currently on the roster, including recent Hawaii transfer Keala Santiago.

No matter how far Anae takes his playing career, he will do it the way he has represented himself all four years in Utah.

“Everybody knows where I’m from up here,” Anae said. “I’d like to make it known some more and I’d like to keep having kids come out of the islands and do well so that people can view Hawaii as a football powerhouse and give the islands the respect they deserve.

“I hold my head high, not with my chin high or my chest puffed out, but humble so that everybody knows how we work and how we get that job done. That pretty much sums it all up.”

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