PHOTO: The book cover to my proposed children’s book on Duffy Daugherty establishing a Hawaiian Pipeline.
By TOM SHANAHAN
Two Hawaii friends who doubled as football stars at rival high schools met at a football training gym hoping to punch college tickets. The scholarships they earned were part of the plan, but they’ve unexpectedly found themselves on symmetrical paths to the Midwest.
Their Michigan State intersection is College Football Hall of Fame coach Duffy Daugherty’s historic Hawaiian Pipeline and the Spartans’ future under new coach Jonathan Smith.
Rustin Young grew up playing baseball, his father Ronald’s sport. But then Rustin grew. And grew some more.
“By the middle of my sophomore year playing baseball, I told my dad I wanted to focus on football,” Young said. “He’s a big baseball guy and still coaches my cousins. He accepted it. It wasn’t easy for him, but he’s been supportive.”
Today, Young is a 6-foot-5, 270-pound offensive tackle from St. Louis School who signed in December with Michigan State. He is ranked the No.1 recruit in the state of Hawaii.
Kekai Burnett grew up loving basketball until he realized power forward wasn’t his future. Helping him see his path forward was observing Tevarua Tafiti, an older football teammate at Punahou School. Tafiti is now a 6-3, 225-pound Stanford linebacker entering his junior college season.
Punahou’s Kekai Burnett rushes from defensive end position against St. Louis offensive lineman Rustin Young.
“I really looked up to him,” Burnett said. “As a sophomore, I saw how focused he was on his football career. I tried to be like him and started training for football like him.”
Today, Burnett is a 6-3, 235-pound edge defensive end who also signed with Michigan State. He is rated the No. 4 recruit in Hawaii.
Duffy Daugherty’s Irish eyes are smiling.
“There are a lot of talented kids in Hawaii who want to go away to college,” said Kale Ane, a Punahou alumnus, Michigan State center (1971-74), six-year NFL veteran and retired Punahou coach. “There is a lot of talent that can help Michigan State.”
Young and Burnett stand out in the Spartans’ 2024 recruiting class for more reasons than their rankings. Michigan State hadn’t landed a recruit to continue Daugherty’s Hawaiian Pipeline since Carter Kamana (1980-84) of Honolulu Kamehameha. Once Young and Burnett arrive on campus, they will have quenched Michigan State’s 44-year drought with some Hawaiian Punch.
They’ll be the 12th and 13th members of an innovative recruiting story that began when Daugherty began recruiting Hawaii in 1954 throughout his 19-years as head coach. The week of the 1966 Rose Bowl, Look Magazine, a national publication when magazines dominated media, featured Bob Apisa, college football’s first Samoan All-American player from Honolulu Farrington; bare-foot kicker/punter Dick Kenney (Irish/Samoan) from Honolulu Iolani; and all-around athlete Charlie Wedemeyer (German/Hawaiian) of Punahou.
Young and Burnett, like most Hawaii denizens, are hapas – the Hawaiian word for ethnic mixtures. Young is Hawaiian, Chinese and Puerto Rican. Burnett is Hawaiian, Chinese and Filipino. Their backgrounds represent decades of people leaving their homelands from both sides of the Pacific Ocean in search of a better future.
Young’s two middle names are Ezekiel and Ka’alokuloku. Ezikiel is from the Bible, while Ka’alokuloku translates from Hawaiian to English as “to not fear the elements.”
Burnett pronounces his first name Kay-kah-EE. His middle name is Alaka’i – “Leader.”
Among MSU’s Hawaii Pipeliners, all were born in Hawaii except for Apisa. He was born in American Samoa, but he also is an ethnic mix with Scottish blood on his mother’s side. English whalers and traders were among Westerners settling in America Samoa. Scottish novelist Robert Louis Stevenson loved American Samoa and lived there until he died in 1894.
Daugherty’s Hawaiian Pipeline was one of two transcendent college football chapters along with his Underground Railroad that recruited African America talent from the segregated South.
Daugherty was ahead of peers on both recruiting trails, but the Hawaii foothold he established was abandoned by his successors. After Denny Stolz (1973-75) and Darryl Rogers (1976-79), the only Spartans’ head coach to re-tap Hawaii was Muddy Waters (1980-82), a Michigan State alumnus. Waters landed Kamana, but the coaches who followed him ignored Hawaii. Their timing was terrible. The state began turning out more Division I talent from the 1990s into the 21st century.
Duffy Daugherty was rolling over in his grave.
Michigan State was on the outside looking in without an island presence as Notre Dame’s Manti Teo (Punahou) was a Heisman Trophy runner-up in 2012, Oregon’s Marcus Mariotta (St. Louis) was the first Polynesian Heisman winner in 2014 and Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa (St. Louis) was the Heisman runner-up in 2018.
And that’s not to mention many other Hawaii high school products dotting the mainland. They included Michigan’s Roman Wilson (St. Louis), a 2023 All-Big Ten receiver, and Maryland’s Taulia Tagovailoa, a second-team All-Big Ten quarterback. Taulia, Tua’s younger brother, attended St. Louis until his family moved to Alabama when he signed with the Crimson Tide.
Before Young and Burnett knew Michigan State was their college destination, they met at Ikaika Athletics in Honolulu as they focused on weight training and football techniques. Young had played on defensive line as a sophomore, but he was told by his high school coaches he had a higher ceiling as an offensive lineman. Soon enough Young and Burnett were paired up the summer prior to their junior seasons. They found themselves challenging and learning from each other.
Michigan State’s new head coach first entered the story last spring and summer while he was still Oregon State’s head coach. Smith, offensive line coach Jim Michalczik and defensive line coach Legi Suiaunoa spotted Young and Burnett at Hawaii football camps.
“I’m pretty quiet, so at first they weren’t sure about me,” Young said. “But they talked to my high school coaches, and they told them to go by the player they saw on the field — not the one they talked to. Coach M was on his way home when he texted me about an offer.”
Added Burnett, “When they recruited me, it wasn’t just coach Smith I liked. I have a great relationship with Legi. He’s tight with his players.”
Both players are highly ranked. Young’s first offers were from San Diego State, Utah, Hawaii and Cal. Then came Arizona, Arizona State, Auburn, Boise State, Fresno State and Oregon State. Burnett’s offers, in addition to Oregon State, included Arizona, BYU, Cal, Hawaii, Oregon, San Diego State, Stanford and Washington State.
Both players settled on Oregon State in large part from conversations with the Beavers’ players while on their recruiting trip.
“He’s straightforward,” Young said. “All of the Oregon State players said that. “When he tells you he’s going to do something, he does it every time. He’s not going to blindside you. That’s what I like about him. He’s very fair. He won’t favor one guy. And just because you’re a third string he won’t push you to the side. He will work with you to get you to be a starter.”
When Smith took the Michigan State job on November 25, the Spartans gained overnight presence in Hawaii that the Spartans had lacked since the 1980s. With the trust Smith earned from Young and Burnett, it was enough lure for them to accept his invitation for a December recruiting trip to a Midwest climate.
“Yeah, it was cold, but we liked the campus,” Young said. “The facilities are great. We toured the new locker room and the indoor field. They’ve got the resources. Everything about Michigan State was nice.”
Duffy Daugherty’s Hawaiian Eyes are smiling.
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Below are links to click on to purchase my books focused.
My books tell the true story of college football integration in the 1960s and address the myths and fiction that allowed a false narrative surrounding the 1970 USC-Alabama game to usurp the credit from the true pioneers. As I said when I spoke at the National Sports Media Association book festival, no two books provide an accurate portrayal more than RAYE OF LIGHT and THE RIGHT THING TO DO.
I’ll put my facts up against anybody, anytime, anywhere.
Click here for my story on the 1962 Rose Bowl and Segregation awarded first place by the Football Writers Association of America. I tell untold stories on Michigan State’s leading role and the true pioneers of college football integration. Click here to read the summary as a first-place story.
Click here to purchase The Right Thing To Do
THE RIGHT THING TO DO
The True Pioneers of College Football Integration in the 1960s
Foreword by Ruffin McNeill
Click here to purchase Raye of Light.
RAYE OF LIGHT
Jimmy Raye, Duffy Daugherty, the 1ntegration of College Football and the 1965-66 Michigan State Spartans
Foreword by Tony Dungy
Click here to purchase my children’s book, Bubba’s Dad, Duffy and College Football’s Underground Railroad
The book for now is only a Kindle version on Amazon. Print and audio platforms available soon.
My next children’s book coming soon: How Duffy Put Hawaii on the Football Map