In the case of this past weekend's PIAA/Junior Rank football camp at 'Aiea High School, the players found ohana in the form of coaches that came from the mainland to discover prospects for an All-American game.
What those coaches found, however, ran a lot deeper. With assistance from the United States Marine Corps, Junior Rank achieved nothing but unqualified success during three days of training and empowerment. The prospects never knew they had football ohana outside the islands, but now they do.
"They are all my kids," Junior Rank Founder Shaon Berry said Sunday, with the same smile he had on his face the moment he got out of the car Friday to address the over 100 camp participants. It didn't hurt that his own son, Justin, had flown in from Chicago with him to participate as a quarterback prospect. "You can't be Daddy to everyone every day, but you can help anybody on any given day. And the goal of this camp is to build long-term relationships."
With a unique regimen - a blend of Marine-style intense warmup and training periods, combined with position-specific drills and team-play - Junior Rank brought something completely different to Hawaii. They even included a Marines-style obstacle course, a challenge taken on by both the Marines and the Junior Rank coaches at the end of camp. According to Defensive Backs Coach Mark McMillan - a six-time Pro Bowler - the Junior Rank coaches moved ahead, 3-2, after defeating the Marines at their own game. The battle will be joined in earnest next week in Dallas.
Soakai Kaumatule, father to brothers Luke and Canton, who play for Punahou, said his sons would talk endlessly about the camp each day on the way home, thinking about the coaching and instruction they received. The Marines also made their mark.
"It was definitely unique, especially with the drill sergeants," said Soakai. "They gave my kids an opportunity to find out what the military is all about."
While not admitting the Marines are targeting their new Semper Fidelis All-American game to compete directly with the popular U.S. Army All-American Bowl, Major Matt Zummo - responsible for Recruiting Station Orange, which encompasses Orange County, south Los Angeles, Hawaii, Guam, Samoa, and Saipan - did acknowledge they want to attract the best and brightest.
"We're going after the same market group, obviously," said Zummo. "We feel like the intangibles associated with the Marine Corps is what makes it superior. I'd like to think our character is a little higher than the other armed services."
In the same way, Junior Rank wants to establish themselves as the football equivalent - a group of coaches looking for 'balanced excellence' - student-athletes who show the core values of discipline, character, and leadership on and off the field. And Hawaii proved to be an ideal recruiting ground.
"The relationship with the Marine Corps and Junior Rank is quintessential for us, because it embodies the discipline and the work ethic," said Berry. "Everyone wants to be a D1 player, but not everyone wants to put in the work to get there, to get to that level. We want to show young men, this is what it takes. They bring that to the camp, and it's an element that works well for us."
Like any ohana, it takes all kinds to find that perfect family balance. Luke Kaumatule and teammate DeForest Buckner were nominated by Berry and the Junior Rank coaches to participate in the Semper Fi game, a huge honor.
The moment was not lost on Soakai Kaumatule, especially on Father's Day. Soakai didn't know about the camp until a friend, Rick Koehler - father to 2013 offensive lineman Reeve Koehler - called him asking if his boys would be participating. It turned out to be a good move.
"On Father's Day, this is what fathers and sons like to do," he said. "And it's been an even better gift to hear that one of your son has been invited to an All-American game."
Because of an ILH rule barring ninth-graders from being able to play varsity football, Luke Kaumatule will not be able to play in high school with his younger brother, Canton. But camps like Junior Rank give them a chance to compete together.
"All my life, I've looked up to Luke as my role model," said Canton, a 6-foot-7, 253-pound freshman. "I always feel confident around him because he's always been there to prop me up, and I could see what I needed to do."
Canton also admitted the Marines and the other players showed him a thing or two about hard work. In his words, it was a bit of an 'eye-opener'.
"I always thought I was working hard, but to see what others have been working on, they seem like they are a couple of steps ahead of me," he said. "I have to work harder, pump the weights, and work on more speed."
The Kaumatules weren't the only brothers at the camp; the Lakalakas - also enrolled through the Punahou pipeline - took part in the camp experience. The oldest, Steven, recently made a verbal commitment to UCLA. Steven is a perfect example of the Junior Rank ohana - a player that would rather talk about his brothers than himself, an older brother who wants his siblings to exceed the expectations he's placed on himself.
"I was pretty surprised, and proud of what they did," said Steven. "Ronley, the way he presented himself against the big boys - I was pretty happy with him. And Seyddrick with the younger guys, I was very happy with what his footwork has done. He just has to work more on his reactions and his explosion.
"My goal is for them to get to a better position than I am. I want them to be a better pair than me when I was their age."
Players like Luke Kaumatule, DeForest Buckner, and Steven Lakalaka serve one mission of Junior Rank - to find elite players for their All-American game. Just as important to Junior Rank is unearthing talent that hasn't quite bubbled to the surface of the recruiting process.
Kalei Auelua was such a talent. The 6-foot-1.5, 240-pound defensive end from the St. Louis School, came to Junior Rank with scholarship offers, but not much more in terms of recruiting cache. That should change after Auelua (pronounced ah-way-LU-ah) earned the Maxwell Football Club Camp MVP award.
"Honestly, I had no clue about him," Berry said of Auelua. "He wasn't on any of the lists that circulate. It took all of 10 minutes for the coaches to go, 'Wait a minute - who is this guy, and why is he destroying guys that we know are D1 talents?' It's a testament to him. You can't find everybody; you can only help the kids you can see. And we're really glad we got a chance to see him."
One of the USMC Leadership Award winners - 'Aiea DT Pio Faamatau - exemplified how size can't solely be the measure of a man. At 5-foot-7 and 245-pounds, Faamatau is an absolute firecracker.
"Pio is the kind of guy you go to war with," Berry said, matter-of-factly. "When you want a guy in the trenches that has heart, character, enthusiasm, leadership, and all those intangibles - he embodied all that for us. His personality was so infectious for me, he felt like my son even before the end of the second day. He's not a cookie-cutter kid. He's not a Division-1, ready-made guy. It doesn't matter. He's a guy that can help any team, and I'd stand up for him anywhere, any time."
And that's what ohana is all about. The Junior Rank camp was so successful, Berry was asked three different times by parents immediately at the end to come back to Hawaii - a request he has promised to fulfill. Combined with the powerful presence of Doris Sullivan and the Pacific Islands Athletic Alliance, Junior Rank's message of a larger mainland-based football ohana left an island-sized impression on those who came to 'Aiea to hear the message.
"It's like when Mom and Dad telling you to do well in school, it's one thing - but when someone else tells you to do well in school, it just means more," said Sullivan, who also said that nearly all the post-camp feedback she had received from players and parents was that Junior Rank was hard and tough, but also very rewarding. It's one reason why coaches like Mike Sims, who taught the quarterbacks for Junior Rank and is known for coaching at the Peyton Manning Passing Academy, is looking to reach out to his new ohana.
"He was so thoroughly impressed with the kids out here," Sullivan said of Sims. "When you have someone of his caliber talk about how the quarterbacks were good, maybe that will help us get quarterbacks recruited to UH (Hawaii) and elsewhere."
That point hit home for me in a huge way Monday as I was interviewing players the morning of a SPARQ combine at McKinley High School in downtown Honolulu. I spied a player who I had seen at Junior Rank that weekend. I went up to him, and asked him what he thought of the camp.
"It was amazing," he said. "It was a life-changing experience."