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Former UH football player Kent Kafentzis was known for his tenacity, generosity

                                Kent Kafentzis
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Kent Kafentzis

Former University of Hawaii defensive back Kent Kafentzis is being remembered as a tenacious competitor, loving parent, and kind and generous friend.

On Wednesday, Kafentzis lost his 15-year battle with cancer. He was 61.

“Kent was just a true friend,” said Tom McCarthy, a former UH teammate. “Kent was the kind of guy who’d give you his shoes outside if he thought you’d need them more than him. He would walk barefoot if he thought the shoes would help you.”

Kafentzis was one of eight family members, including five brothers, to play for the Rainbow Warriors.

“Aside from the Nogas, Kafentzis is one of the most famous family names in UH football history,” said Rich Miano, a former UH safety who went on to play 11 NFL seasons and then coach at his alma mater. “Kent had a great attitude. His work ethic. His loyalty to his friends, teammates, school, whatever, you could trust he would be a life-long friend. I played with hundreds of guys, coached thousands of guys, all good people, but Kent … he was a great friend.”

The 13 Kafentzis siblings grew up in Richland, Wash. Then-UH head coach Dick Tomey recruited Mark Kafentzis to the Manoa campus. After that, Bob Wagner, who coached the UH secondary at the time, signed Kent, Kurt, Kyle and Sean. Kent was one of the most competitive, often bragging that he entered the world a minute ahead of twin Kurt on New Year’s Eve.

“He let Kurt know that throughout their life,” Kyle said.

But Mark added: “The only time Kurt was older was when he was living in Japan” because of the time difference.

Kent, a four-sport athlete at Richland High, received scholarship offers from Notre Dame and Washington to play running back. Kent turned down dozens of other offers, instead deciding to join Mark and Kurt, who already had committed to UH, in the Rainbow Warrior secondary.

During a game against UTEP, an injury forced a lineup shuffle. Miano moved to free safety and Kent entered in Miano’s previous spot at strong safety. After the game, Miano said, “I remember Bob Wagner telling me: ‘you may never get your job back.’ That’s how good Kent was. I thought, man, this guy (Kent) could play.”

Kent and Miano were relentless in their weight training and conditioning. “Kent worked his ass off,” Mc­Carthy said. “He was that same mode as Richie. They worked harder than anybody else. I got half a workout watching him work out.”

Sportscaster Larry Beil recalled that “all of the (Kafentzis) brothers were undersized. But they flew around like wild men in the secondary. For anybody who was a fan of UH football at that point, the Kafentzis name was gold. If a Kafentzis was involved in a play, something good probably happened.”

In 1985, on a UH team that included defensive lineman Al Noga, offensive lineman Joe Onosai and receiver Walter Murray, it was Kent Kafentzis who was named the Rainbow Warriors’ most valuable player. Kent also was named to the All-WAC first team. In May 1986, he was the St. Louis Rams’ ninth-round pick in the NFL Draft.

Nearly a decade later, Kent was exposed to some toxins while working at a safety-cleaning facility. It was believed that led, in 2009, to an 8-centimeter cancerous tumor in his left kidney that had to be surgically removed. Five years later, a malignant tumor was found in his right lung. He was told he had stage 4 cancer — the most dangerous level — the same diagnosis as in 2009.

“He battled it,” Kyle said. “It was a daily thing.”

“You’d call him up to ask how he was doing,” Miano said, “and he would never tell you how bad he was feeling. He wanted to talk about his children (Konner and Kennedy), or Hawaii football, or friendship. He wanted to make you laugh.”

Kyle said his family, particularly Kent, were proud of their ties to Hawaii.

“Hawaii means a lot to us,’ Kyle said. “We all have Hawaii alumni license plates. When we golf, we have Hawaii alumni ball markers, head covers. Nobody appreciated Hawaii more than Kent.”

Kent’s daughter also earned a degree from UH.

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