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2021 Recruiting Breakdown: Hawaii

A class built mainly with transfers

NCAA Football: New Mexico Bowl-Hawaii at Houston Tim Flores-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the eleventh post in our twelve-part recruiting breakdown series. Today looks at the #11 team in our rankings, Hawaii.

Hawaii had bad luck with timing trying to put a class together in January after a coaching change. However, they got a pass given the circumstances. This year, their class was a bit more puzzling. They only signed a handful of players in December and then filled the class out with transfers. It is unclear if the coaching staff isn’t putting much effort into recruiting or they are trying to find experienced players to fit the system while they build. To see the class, read below.

The Skinny:

  • 18 players signed.
  • 9 high school players, 1 JUCO player, 8 transfers
  • 6 offensive, 12 defensive
  • 7 3-stars per 247 Composite rankings.
  • Players with a composite rating over 85: 0
  • Players with a composite rating between 82-84: 4
  • Breakdown by state: 8 Texas, 4 Hawaii, 2 Louisiana, 1 Georgia, 1 Utah
  • 123rd in the 247 Composite Rankings

The Players:

QB Brayden Schager

Brayden is a strong-armed pocket-passer entering the fold for Hawaii. He goes through progressions quickly and has a rapid release on his throws. Schager appears to excel in the medium-range passing game, hitting the first open receiver in an up-tempo offense. He seems most comfortable in the shotgun and has formidable football in the pocket. Brayden has a bright future ahead of himself at quarterback.

RB Jordan Johnson

Jordan is a compact running back who relies on quick cuts out of the backfield and possesses good speed in the open field. He sheds arm tackles with ease and uses subtle yet precise footwork to gain angles on defenders. Johnson is versatile, able to succeed with traditional handoffs, in motion and on pitches. He is also a capable receiver, which allows him to be used in multiple ways in an offense. Jordan is capable enough to play early with Hawaii.

Transfer RB Dedrick Parson

Dedrick is transferring from Howard. His high school film shows him to be a small speedy back who can change the pace of an offense. Parson is great catching the ball in space and making defenders miss with his cuts and jukes. He can find the small holes and burst through openings when running between the tackles. Dedrick should find a role immediately next year and be utilized in multiple ways.

Transfer TE Caleb Phillips

Caleb is another transfer in this class. He hails from Stanford, who is known for developing talented tight ends. Phillips is tremendous collecting yards after the catch with his speed and mobility. He is an impressive route runner and he has a knack for getting open or finding the hole in the zone. Caleb should instantly impact the Hawaii offense with his skill set.

Transfer TE Kolby Wyatt

Kolby will be coming to Hawaii after some time at Georgia, and he was a highly-rated recruit before that. His high school film shows much of his time on defense, where he used his long strides and speed to cover a lot of ground in the open field. Wyatt is a high-motor player who is physical at the line of scrimmage, which will bode well for him as a tight end. He sees the field well and reacts quickly. Kolby will provide a veteran presence to the Hawaii team and could become a productive player in their offense.

OL Nate Adams

Nate is one of the handful of high school players in this class for Hawaii. He takes command of the offensive line, calling out audibles and picking up defensive allignments. Adams gets in his pass protection stance immediately after the snap and keeps his head moving to pick up blitzes or assist with double teams. He is mobile enough to pull and get into the second level for blocking. Nate looks like a good bet to stick at center although his is versatile enough to play in a few different spots on the line.

Transfer DT Zacchaeus McKinney

Zacchaeus is a transfer from Oklahoma, so it’s clear he has talent. He is tenancious and disruptive at the line of scrimmage, getting into the backfield with little issue. McKinney can fight off double teams and make tackles with lots of power behind them. He clearly has the strength advantage over blockers and regularly pushes offensive linemen back, resetting the line of scrimmage. Zacchaeus looks like a great fit for Hawaii who can play nose tackle or defensive tackle for Hawaii.

DE Tariq Jones

Tariq displayed some impressive production in high school. He’s quick into the backfield and finds the ball-carrier immediately. Jones wraps up well on tackles and sheds blockers using his strength and quick burst speed. Perhaps more impressively, he understands contain and zone assignments and doesn’t give up on plays away from him. Tariq appears to have a combination of physical ability and football IQ, which will serve him well in college football.

DL Zhen-Keith Sotelo

Zhen is a local player in this class for the Rainbow Warriors. He is quick off the snap and doesn’t give up on plays. Sotelo possesses an array of moves to beat blockers and get to the quarterback. He is very physical at the line and can plug up holes to stop runs. Zhen should continue the tradition of local plays making an impact for Hawaii.

JUCO DL O‘tay Baker

O’tay is a rarity nowadays coming from the junior college circuit. He is explosive off the snap and quick, reacting before blockers can. Baker is especially adept at getting after the quarterback using his length and wrapping up well on tackles. He also does well in run support, being careful to not overpursue and keeping his head up to track plays. O’tay appears to be a really nice find who can help Hawaii out right away.

Transfer DL Pita Tonga

Pita comes to Hawaii by way of Utah. He is extremely physical and aggressive at the line of scrimmage. Tonga displays agility and athleticism as he moves off blocks and gets after the quarterback. He wraps up well on tackles and even if he doesn’t make the play, he creates enough havoc to disrupt the offense. Pita should find a role for the Rainbow Warriors next fall.

LB Sonny Semeatu

Sonny is a local product coming in at linebacker. He plays aggressively at the line, whether it’s against the run or the pass. Semeatu plays fast considering his size and gets off the edge and past blockers with relative ease. He is a sound tackler and puts himself in the right position to make a play. Sonny projects as a weak-side linebacker he can stop the run, blitz, and play the short zone in the flat.

LB Josh Bertholotte

Josh is a nice linebacker Hawaii was able to secure. He covers the width of the field well and possesses great game speed. Bertholotte flocks to the ball quickly and is a physical tackler. He diagnoses plays in real time and is adept in pass coverage as well as stopping the run. Josh is talented enough where he could play right away for the Hawaii defense.

Transfer LB Solomon Turner

Solomon is a highly-ranked transfer from Baylor. He uses his visions and hands to make plays on the defensive end and covers well in space. Turner played on both sides of the ball and his film shows his knowledge of the game and ability to handle a large knowledge of playbooks and schemes. He has big play potential thanks to his size and speed. Solomon’s time as a defensive back in high school should help him be a great hybrid type of cover linebacker and should find an immediate role in Hawaii’s defense.

DB Eli Matagi Thompson

Matagi is another local player in this class. He is a ball hawk who tracks the ball in the air and gets himself in position to make a play. Thompson also brings a physical presence to the secondary, bringing players down with powerful hits. He is great at keeping plays in front of him and closing in to make the play. Matagi could see some early playing time next fall.

DB Ty Marsh

Ty is one of the best players in this class. He is great in coverage, seeing the field and getting himself in position to make a play. Marsh lays physical hits, and isn’t afraid to help out in run support. He can play tight coverage on the outside but may be at his best in zone where he can stay active and adjust to where the ball is going. Ty can play anywhere on the secondary, which will help him get early playing time.

Transfer DB Hugh Nelson

Hugh is another player coming from Georgia. In high school, he primarily played wide receiver but is a defensive player now. Nelson has speed and an ability to track the ball in the air, both of which help him on defense. He also brings a sense of physicality to the position. Hugh should help out the Hawaii secondary right away.

Transfer DB Colby Burton

Colby is yes another transfer, coming over from McNeese State. His high school film shows he can track the ball well in the air and is constantly a threat to get a pick. Burton can play in a variety of coverages, but seems to do well in zone where he can use his vision to be in a position to make a play. Plus, he is physical at the point of contact and doesn’t stray far from receivers. It’s easy to see Colby come in and fill a need next year for the Rainbow Warriors as one of their primary cornerbacks.

Team Writer Thoughts:

Jeremy: Todd Graham and his staff, albeit with departures in recent weeks from offensive coordinator G.J. Kinne and wide receivers coach Brennan Marion, revealed their hand when it comes to recruiting for the class of 2021. Last year, Graham and co. had so little time to recruit. This time around, the theme is clear: Graham will pick his spots in local recruiting, but will hammer Texas and the transfer portal. Hawaii added 7 high players from Texas and Louisiana and 0 from California. It is truly a new era at Manoa.

I expect all of the transfers to contribute and potentially even start right away. Zhen-Keith Sotelo and Ty Marsh are the gems of the recruiting class to me, but keep an eye on quarterback Brayden Schager. He might be next in line to start at quarterback in a few seasons. Sonny Semeatu is my sleeper pick, because it is written in the stars that all under-recruited Mililani kids star at Hawaii.

Quick Hits:


Mike: Marsh, Sotelo

Jeremy: March, Sotelo

Talented enough to play right away:

Mike: Marsh, Sotelo, Schager, Bertholotte

Jeremy: Marsh, Sotelo

Sleeper Recruit:

Mike: Adams, Thompson

Jeremy: Semeatu, Thompson

Best unit:

Mike: Defensive line, defensive back

Jeremy: Defensive line, defense back


The Rainbow Warriors had an odd approach to recruiting this year, but they still managed to bring in a handful of talented high schoolers along with a plethora of transfers. The strategy could pay off for them in the transfer players fill immediate needs, which is certainly possible. However, the class will be a true success if the high school players can develop over the next few years and become core team players going forward. Hawaii’s recruiting efforts may not be traditional, but it doesn’t mean they don’t have the potential to be effective.

Previous: San Diego State, Boise State, UNLV, Fresno State, Nevada, Colorado State, Air Force, New Mexico, San Jose State, Wyoming

Coming tomorrow: Utah State

Thanks to everyone who followed along in this series! It’s a lot of work but it’s a lot of fun as well. Hope this provided a taste of the talent coming into the Mountain West next fall.