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2023 Recruiting Breakdown: Hawaii

A class with high school, junior college, and transfer talent

NCAA Football: Hawaii at Fresno State Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the ninth post in our twelve-part recruiting breakdown series. Today will look at the #9 team in our rankings, Hawaii.

Last year Hawaii was in a terrible position, losing their coach in the winter and being forced to piece a class together at the last minute. Not to mention the previous coach failed to prioritize recruiting. With a full year under their belts, the new coaching staff was able to execute their strategy of finding local talent, quality high school players, and attempting to be a top destination for transfers looking for a second chance. To learn about this class, read below.

The Skinny:

  • 30 players signed.
  • 17 high school players, 6 JUCO players, 7 transfers
  • 9 offensive, 20 defensive, 1 athlete
  • 7 3-stars per 247 Composite rankings.
  • Players with a composite rating over 85: 1
  • Players with a composite rating over 82: 5
  • Breakdown by state (excluding transfers): 6 Hawaii, 3 California, 3 Nevada, 2 Florida, 1 Arizona, 1 Georgia, 1 Kansas, 1 Texas, 1 Utah, 1 Washington, 1 American Samoa, 1 England, 1 New Zealand
  • 247 Composite Rankings (subject to change)

- Overall: 115

- Recruiting: 114

- Transfer: 126

The Players:

QB John Keawe Sagapolutele

John is a local recruit with a lot of upside that Hawaii was able to sign. He has a big arm and is very accurate when throwing on the run. Keawe Sagapolutele has an impressive command of the offense, making quick reads and getting rid of the ball as soon as possible. He can also buy time in the pocket with his legs, evading pressure and scrambling well. John should be a solid quarterback after a few years in the system.

WR Eddie Osei-Nketia

Football highlights were not available for Eddie because he has been a runner and rugby player and is now switching to football. He competed in the Olympics, running the 100-meter in 10.08 seconds. Osei-Nketia has long strides and exceptional technique and figures to blow right by defenders with no issue on deep routes. He also has tremendous size, making him a tough matchup physically. However, Eddie will be extremely raw, especially at catching the ball and learning routes, and will need time to develop.

WR Liatama Uiliata

Liatama is another local product joining the #BRADDAHHOOD. He is an athlete in every sense of the word, playing multiple positions and is also the focal point of whatever side of the ball he is on. Uiliata has great vision on the field and makes smooth cuts when running with the ball in his hands. He is electric running routes and changing directions, making it hard for defenders to keep up. Liatam will be a wide receiver for the Rainbow Warriors and should be ideal in the slot in the run-and-shoot.

WR Maclane Watkins

Maclane is another wide receiver in this Hawaii class. He is a tall receiver with long strides who can cover a lot of ground in a hurry. Watkins is a great route-runner and knows how to set up defenders well with his footwork. He is a matchup nightmare for the opposite, especially when factoring in his jumping and catching ability. Maclane will look great lining up on the outside and could see some snaps as soon as this year.

Transfer WR Steven McBride

Steven is a transfer coming to Hawaii from Kansas. He is a solid route-runner, capable of executing short and medium patterns, and has the ability to stop on a dime. Even more impressively is McBride’s skills after the catch, where he finds another speed and piles up the yards with his legs. He tracks the ball well and can adjust his timing to coincide with the ball. Steven will bring veteran experience to a team that sorely needs it and should have the production to match it.

OL Kaleb Carter

Kaleb comes to the islands with college-ready size. He moves immediately after the ball is snapped and gets into the proper position quickly in order to execute his assignment. Carter excels in pulling and getting out of the pocket as a leader blocker on run plays. He punishes players with his blocks, getting the full weight of his body into his hits. Kaleb seems best suited as a guard, where he run blocking can be used effectively.

OL Isaac Maugaleoo

Isaac enters the fold as an offensive lineman. He is mobile and has a knack for pancaking defenders on run plays. Maugaleoo has impressive size and moves well backward as well as laterally. He shines in pass protection, keeping defenders from getting past him due to his size and ability to shift his feet. Isaac should keep developing and see the field sooner rather than later.

JUCO OL Fred Pelling

Fred comes in from junior college (and England) hoping to bolster the o-line. He is massive, and will take up lots of space, impeding defenders from getting to the quarterback. Pelling has noticeable strength and does well squaring up on his blocks. He moves well once he gets going and seems to have an understanding of what to do on each play. Fred will need more time to continue to develop but could be quite the player in his reaches his potential.

Transfer OL Joshua Atkins

Joshua is an offensive lineman coming over from Houston. He is an imposing figure with an advanced technique in both pass protection and run-blocking. Atkins is strong and does a good job using his lower body while also keeping his hands moving to finish blocks. He is mobile enough to get out in front of blockers and takes on defenders in the second level of the defense. Joshua should step into the offensive line right away at a tackle spot.

DL Zoram Petelo

Zoram is an athletic two-play moving to defense full time. He is quick off the edge and takes good angles as he gets into the backfield. Petelo’s game isn’t just about speed; he has enough strength to bull-rush blockers, knocking them back into the quarterback. His long arms allow him to tackle well and he does a good job reacting to the play as it develops. Zoram has an ideal pass-rushers build and should develop the skills to make an impact on the field.

DL Ha’aheo Dela Cruz

Ha’aheo is yet another local player joining his hometown team. He is disruptive at the line of scrimmage, getting into the backfield right after the snap with his strength and speed mix. Dela Cruz has the quick twitch which allows him to get a step on blockers, and he is strong enough to push offensive linemen around. He can line up at multiple spots along the d-line and keeps moving until he finishes the play. Ha’aheo is another versatile player coming to Hawaii.

DL Aiden McComber

Aiden will be coming to the program as a defensive lineman. He is a high-mortor player who uses his strength to gain the edge over blockers. McComber displays an effective bull-rush and can overpower offensive linemen, winning the battle more often than not. He is also effective in defending the run, remaining patient and getting in good position to make a play. Aiden should have a solid college career in the years to come.

JUCO DT Daniel Williams

Daniel is a defensive player coming from the junior college level. He is strong and moves quickly, manhandling would-be blockers once the play starts in order to get to the quarterback. Williams never stops moving and does a great job get his hands on the ball carrier, dragging them down to the ground by any means necessary. He disrupts plays immediately and shuts down the run by eating up blocks. Daniel looks great lining up on the interior of Hawaii’s d-line.

Transfer DT Kuao Peihopa

Kuao is a native bounce-back after he spent time at Washington. He is a high-energy player who gives maximum effort on every play. Peihopa is a violent tackler and gets into position right away after the snap, getting past blockers with ease. He excels at pushing offensive linemen back and resetting the line of scrimmage. Kuao should add immediate talent to the defensive line next season.

Transfer DL Josh Jerome

Josh is transferring in from Eastern Washington. He is a quick, agile defensive lineman who uses a tremendous swim-move to get into the backfield with ease. Jerome isn’t just finese, he shows off his strength as he pushes past would-be blockers and delivers punishing hits on the quarterback. He is formidable against the run or the pass due to his tackling ability. Josh is likely to be on the two-deep from day one and will provide a veteran presence for the team.

Transfer DE Elijah Robinson

Elijah is another transfer on the defensive line. He demonstrates good speed off the edge and is relentless in his pursuit of the quarterback. Robinson moves around well in the scrum at the line of scrimmage and reacts quickly as plays to develop, getting to the ball to make a tackle. He features an array of pass-rushing moves but is skilled enough to defend the run too. Elijah should add instant production as a defensive end for Hawaii.

LB Jamih Otis

Jamih comes from the ninth island, more specifically, Bishop Gorman. His game speed jumps off his film, as he moves fast both in a straight line as well as laterally. Otis does a fantastic job filling the holes and squaring up against ball carriers in order to make a tackle. He reacts to plays quickly as they develop and flys to the ball to make a play on the receiver. Jamih appears to be a natural middle linebacker and should have a bright college career.

LB Junior Fiaui

Junior is a linebacker who also hails from the islands. He is an all-around linebacker who moves extremely well in space, covering a lot of ground in the process. Fiaui is a textbook tackler, making violent hits in the backfield and in the open field. He diagnoses plays as they happen commits to making a play with full force. Junior looks impressive on film and it won’t be long until he sees the field.

LB Vaifanua Peko

Vaifanua is coming over from American Samoa to play for the Rainbow Warriors. He is very athletic, reacting to plays well and having a knack for getting his hands on the ball in the air. Peko is an aggressive tackler who has long strides enabling him to cover ground in a hurry. He seems at his best as a coverage linebacker who can chase down receivers in front of him. Vaifanua will likely be coming to college ball a bit raw, but there’s no reason to think he can’t develop into a solid player.

Transfer LB Patrick Hisatake

Patrick is looking for a second chance as he transfers over from Cal. He has impressive size and is explosive off the snap, getting to the ballcarrier in a hurry. Hisatake can play on the line where he uses his speed and power to get to the quarterback, or he can drop back into coverage where he can matchup against tight ends or cover an area in a zone. He wraps up well and does everything he can to make a play. Patrick should inject some talent into the linebacker room and see the field right away.

DB Ezekiel Rodrigues

Ezekiel comes out of high school to play defensive back for Hawaii. He is able to watch plays develop while roaming the secondary and does a nice job putting himself into the proper position to make a tackle. Rodriguez is a sound tackler, whether that is in the open field or near the line of scrimmage when playing up in the box. He does a great job helping in coverage, sliding over to make a play after the ball is released. Ezekiel will benefit from a redshirt year, but should be up to speed before too long.

DB Deliyon Freeman

Deliyon is a two-way player joining the team as a defensive back. He is a physical corner, frequently pressing receivers at the line of scrimmage and fighting through blocks to blow up screens or run plays. Freeman is at his best in pass coverage, jumping routes with ease and pulling down interceptions. He does a nice job coming out of his backpedal and changes directions quickly. Deliyon looks like a quality player and has a chance to showcase his talents early in his career.

DB Makana Meyer

Makana is a local player who will suit up as a defensive back. He is a very active player who does whatever he can to make a play and disrupt the offense. Meyer dissects plays in real time and does a great job swarming to the ball. He plays well in zone coverage, where his closing speed really shines. Makana has all the makings of a tough in-state player for Hawaii.

DB Elijah Palmer

Elijah is another Bishop Gorman player making his way to Hawaii. He presents as a very polished cornerback, with advanced coverage skills. Palmer plays tight coverage against wide receivers and doesn’t allow for much space between them. he does a great job getting his hands on the ball and his ability to catch helps him rack up the interceptions. Elijah is a natural ball hawk and it won’t be long before he showcases that for the Rainbow Warriors.

JUCO DB Cbo Brown

Cbo comes to Hawaii after a productive season at the JUCO level. He is a great cover corner, tracking the ball in the air and using his body to shield off receivers. Brown covers a lot of ground with his speed and often comes down with a pick if he gets his hands on the ball. He can play both press or soft coverage effectively and keeps receivers in front of him. Cbo should have no issue carving out a role next season.

JUCO DB Justin Sinclair

Justin comes to Hawaii from junior college. He understands routes and concepts well and is able to get the inside step to knock the ball away or pick it off. Sinclair is dangerous once he gets the ball in his hands, outrunning other players and using his vision to find extra yards. He is able to cover a lot of ground, making him a good fit in different spots in zone coverage. Justin should find a role in some form next season.

JUCO DB Christion Williams

Christion is another junior college defensive back in this class. He is an extremely hard hitter who tackles well in the open field. Williams’ skill set allows him to to well against the pass as well as the run. He is versatile, able to play any position in the secondary but looks best as a safety who can roam the middle of the field or step up in the box. Christion should make his mark on the defense and on special teams next season.

JUCO DB DaMarco Moorer

DaMarco was a late addition to the class, but is talented nonetheless. He is a versatile player who can line up at multiple positions due to his athleticism. Moorer is a tremendous tackler, possessing the ability to square up on a player in the open field while by are moving. He is a skilled returner as well, making smooth cuts at top speed to make players miss. DaMarco can impact a game in a variety of ways and should be able to do that next season.

Transfer DB Cam Stone

Cam is quite the athlete in the secondary. He has incredible speed, and it’s on full display every time he gets a pick or scoops up a fumble. Stone isn’t afraid to mix it up in the run game either, and he puts his whole body into his tackles. He has the potential to be an explosive returner and is definitely someone who should get touches on the ball despite being a defensive player. Cameron comes with lots of starting experience and should immediately boost Hawaii’s defense.

ATH Domata Peko Jr

Domata is the kind of player Hawaii desperately needed in this class. He can play effectively on both sides of the ball, showing off his athleticism and skills. Peko bursts into the backfield with speed and power, running right by blockers and delivering big, fundamentally sound hits on the quarterback. As a tight end, he is an efficient route-runner with great hands who has no problem making difficult catches in traffic. Domata is talented enough to play right away on offense or defense, but he may make more of an impact as an edge rusher earlier in his career.

Team Writer Thoughts:

Jeremy: Head coach Timmy Chang and his staff were dealt an impossible task last recruiting cycle. Recruiting high school talent takes years of establishing relationships with players. Not easy to do that on short notice. The 2023 class represents Chang’s first real class with an aim on development. Elijah Palmer and Domata Peko Jr. have the ability to play right away. Peko Jr. could play several different positions. Punahou’s John-Keawe Sagapolutele will be Chang’s first quarterback to learn the run-and-shoot exclusively, ready to take over after Brayden Schager runs out of eligibility. Overall, Hawaii needed to find athletes that can fill out and develop and accomplished exactly that.

Quick Hits:


Mike: Peko, Palmer, Keawe Sagapolutele

Jeremy: Peko, Palmer, Keawe Sagapolutele

Talented enough to play right away:

Mike: Peko, Palmer, Keawe Sagapolutele, Otis, McComber

Jeremy: Peko, Palmer, McComber, Rodrigues

Sleeper Recruit:

Mike: Fiaui, Carter

Jeremy: Rodrigues, Watkins

Best unit:

Mike: Defensive back, Defensive line

Jeremy: Defensive back, Defensive line


Hawaii was able to execute their recruiting philosophy in this class and the results were encouraging. They got local players to buy into the program. They identified talented players from productive high school program, like the three players from Bishop Gorman. And they identified junior college and transfer players who were either looking for a second chance at playing time, or had ties to the islands. As the Rainbow Warriors continue to rebuild, their strategy makes a lot of sense and it will be interesting to see how it pays dividends in the future.

Previous: Boise State, San Diego State, Colorado State, Fresno State, Utah State, Nevada, UNLV, Air Force

Next: San Jose 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. The hope is this provided a taste of the talent coming into the Mountain West next fall.