SFU has little Hawaiian flavor

By Matt Michelone

For the Mirror

LORETTO – Some college football players who come from the Hawaiian islands may experience the shock of going from beautiful weather year-round, to experiencing varying temperatures when they leave home.

Saint Francis junior linebacker Solomon Leaeno is choosing to embrace the change in climate.

Leaeno is one of seven players from the islands on the Red Flash football squad this fall, and he joined four teammates Tuesday afternoon for media day.

“It was really just to play football and get my education,” Leaeno said. “(Head) coach (Chris Villarrial) gave me the opportunity to play out here.

“I’ve lived in Hawaii all my life, and I thought it would be a good experience to see something new.”

Last season, the Kapeoli native was third for the defense in tackles with 67 (25 solo, 4.5 for loss) and had two fumble recoveries.

“We don’t have the budget to fly guys from the island in,” Villarrial said of recruiting in Hawaii. “It’s kind of word of mouth. You’d be surprised, a lot of them are like ‘okay, I’ve never seen snow,” so they look forward to it.”

Leaeno is joined by fellow Kapeoli nativeAndrew Julius, a junior defensive lineman.

Leaeno was a two-time first-team all-star and all-state selection. He currently majors in criminal justice, and hopes to pursue a career with the FBI.

Travel can also create long days for the Hawaii players as they could travel nearly half of the day from home to get to Pennsylvania. That’s something Leaeno is now use to.

“I used to think flying was cool, but now I’m in the air from Hawaii to Pennsylvania 11 total hours,” he said. “I’m enjoying everything that God has thrown my way.”

That can also make communicating with family very difficult.

If he wants to make a phone call back home between noon-2 p.m., that will mean it’s between 6-8 a.m. local time in Kapoeli. Leaeno will send text messages to help with the time difference for his family.

His parents were surprised by the decision, and thought he might try to play at the FBS level over the FCS.

“They thought I was going to stay home at the University of Hawaii and walk on,” he said.

High school football can be tricky at times in the state of Hawaii, too. Each of the islands have their own conference, but if they want to play elsewhere, they have to fly 15-minutes to get to another island to play a game.

Villarrial is excited to have Leaeno back for his junior season.

“When you put the tape on, you know where Solomon is,” Villarrial said. “He plays through pain, last year he had more injuries, but he kept playing for us.

“For me, to be able to coach a guy of this caliber is an honor. His future is very bright right now.”

St. Francis football has come close in the last three years to breaking their now 22-year losing streak. The last time the Red Flash had a winning record was in 1992 when they went 8-2-1.

Leaeno is looking forward to helping St. Francis break the streak, especially after falling to Central Connecticut State on the last day of 2014.

“Every year we come up so close, but now I think we have all of the puzzle pieces to bring it together,” he said.