The first round of the National Football League draft takes place Thursday in Philadelphia, and unlike the last two years with Marcus Mariota and DeForest Buckner, there are no Hawaii-born prospects expected to get the opening-round call.
However, a handful are hoping to get some “aloha” this weekend from franchises.
Among the bunch is former University of Hawaii pass rusher Makani Kema-Kaleiwahea. At 6-foot-2 and 240 lbs., the Arizona transfer is confident he will receive a camp invite via late rounds or in free agency, which would carry unequaled emotion.
Raised in an abusive foster home, Kema-Kaleiwahea, in a well-documented, heart-warming story, became the youngest foster parent in America, raising his two brothers while enduring as a student-athlete.
Recently, a video tweeted by Kema-Kaleiwahea training in a homemade sweatshirt that reads “Just a kid from foster care” went viral, providing yet more motivation for the proud Hawaiian.
“That’s the big reason why I made this jacket, and since I posted that video about a week ago or two weeks ago, it’s gotten over 100,000 views and I got countless kids all through social media,” said Kema-Kaleiwahea. “Last night I was even talking to a kid from Kalihi that plays for Palama Settlement, and we were just going back and forth, and this was one of the many kids that I talked to since I posted that video. When I come and work out at Chad Ikei’s every morning, and when I go and do overtime and boxing at night, I just tell myself that there is a lot more people than myself for who I’m doing this for. That just kicks in and boom, I just turn into a whole different animal.”
Kema-Kaleiwahea is considered by some as a long-shot for the draft, but all signs point to strong interest from a handful of teams regarding a roster invite to mini camp.
“I tell them that you could do it. You can be where I am, and that’s the main reason why I do this,” he said. “It’s not only for me and my family, but to serve and be an inspiration to other kids, and it doesn’t really matter what you’ve been through in life, you know. Don’t ever let that hinder what you want to be in life, and I’m just excited. I just can’t wait to see where I end up this week.”
The NFL draft runs Thursday through Saturday and will be televised on the ESPN family of networks.